Osteoporosis is the weakening and loss of bone mass that leads to abnormally frail bones. The disease itself occurs when the bone fails to produce or maintain bone density, becoming more like a sponge over time. Osteoporosis makes it easier to fracture or break bones during injuries that wouldn’t normally cause a severe amount of damage. In severe cases, a simple small or sneeze could cause the bones may even collapse. Osteoporosis affects all bones, but many cases are found in the hips, spine, ribs and wrists.
Risk Factors and Causes
Osteoporosis affects roughly 54 million people in the United States. Although the disease is more common in women, men over the age of 50 are also susceptible. Interestingly, people with smaller body frames are at a higher risk due to less bone mass overall. Women of Asian or Caucasian decent are genetically more likely to develop osteoporosis, although the disease is found in all ethnicities. People with a family history of joint and bone issues are also at a higher risk, especially when one or more family members have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Other risk factors include heavy drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, calcium deficiency, and poor nutrition. Smoking, drinking, and poor nutrition drain vital nutrients from your body without replacing them. Your bones are made up of calcium, protein, and collagen. Therefore, without proper nutrition, your body and bones become weak, making the body more vulnerable to osteoporosis.
Sometimes having osteoporosis is the result of a medical condition that is beyond your control.
- Cancer: The chemotherapy treatment weakens your body. Osteoporosis can be a side-effect.
- Hyperthyroidism: Overproduction of the thyroid can lead to osteoporosis.
- Lack of Estrogen: This can be caused by any number of things, but not having enough estrogen can negatively affect your body.
- Vitamin D Deficiency: Without vitamin D, you won’t be able to absorb calcium, resulting in your bones becoming weak.
- Various Medications: Some medications can also cause osteoporosis.
The only symptom of osteoporosis is pain from the fracture. Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect the fracture unless you go to the doctor. Fractures can go undetected for decades, because they may not cause enough pain to warrant seeing a doctor. Osteoporosis is most often found following an injury.
Regular x-rays can also be used to see fractures caused by osteoporosis, but they are not recommended. By the time these fractures are discovered, over 25% of the bone is already gone. Osteoporosis is normally diagnosed using a process called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. This test measures your bone density and then compares it to what is normal for your age group. This measurement is called a T-score; if your T-score is -2.5 or below, you have osteoporosis.
Types of Osteoporosis
Aside from the type of osteoporosis found in adults, there is also juvenile osteoporosis. Juvenile osteoporosis affects children and teens. They often get secondary osteoporosis, which is as a result of another disease that causes osteoporosis, such as cancer. Children can also get idiopathic osteoporosis. It has no cause, and usually develops just before puberty. This can be problematic, since children develop more than 80% of their bone density during puberty.
The prognosis can vary greatly depending on medical history and lifestyle factors. Most of it depends on how early the disease is caught. With proper treatment, the prognosis can be excellent unless diagnosis is extremely delayed.
Prognosis can be improved by making important lifestyle changes and taking the proper medication. If you are a smoker, you need to stop immediately. If you have poor nutrition, you should start eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Talk to your doctor about taking supplements that contain vitamin D and calcium as well. Exercise can also help, check with your doctor to ensure certain exercises don’t cause further damage.
If you have osteoporosis as a result of a lack of hormones, you may need hormone therapy. Estrogen therapy is common and available to take orally or through patches. There are several types of medications that can stop the loss of bone, increase the strength of your bones and increase their formation. These medications can be discussed with your physician. Coupled with changes in your lifestyle, they can help improve your prognosis significantly.
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