Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones. It means that you have bones that are thin and brittle with lots of holes inside them like a sponge. It occurs due to low bone mass and bone tissue loss. This makes them easy to break.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 53 million Americans either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass.
Osteoporosis is silent because there are no symptoms (what you feel). Sometimes you might notice height lost by noticing your clothes are not fitting right. Other times it may come to your attention only after you break a bone. When you have this condition, a fracture can occur even after a minor injury, such as a fall.
Osteoporosis can lead to broken bones (fractures). The most common fractures occur at the in the hip, spine, and wrist. These fractures can be disabling and may make it hard for you to live on your own.
Who gets osteoporosis?
Although osteoporosis occurs in both men and women, women are four times more likely to develop the disease than men. After age 50, one in two women and one in four men, will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetimes.
According to the womenshealth.gov, of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, more than 8 million (or 80%) are women.
Women are more likely to get osteoporosis because, they:
- Usually have smaller, thinner, less dense bones than men.
- Often live longer than men. Bone loss happens naturally as we age.
- Also lose more bone mass after menopause. This occurs with very low levels of the hormone estrogen. Higher estrogen levels before menopause helps protect bone density.
What causes osteoporosis?
It’s caused by a lack of bone strength or bone density. As you age, your bones get thinner naturally. But some things can make you more likely to have the severe bone thinning of osteoporosis. These things are called risk factors.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
You can change some of these risk factors, but not others. Recognizing your risk factors is important. Because, it can help you take steps to prevent this condition or treat it before it becomes worse.
Risk Factors You Can’t Change
- Being a woman who has gone through menopause.
- Having a family history of fractures
- Being age 50 or older
- Having small or thin bones
- People of European and Asian background
- Having low estrogen levels
- Low testosterone in men
Risks Factors You May Be Able to Change
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Anorexia or bulimia
- Dietary deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D
- Lack of weight-bearing exercise
- Long-term use of certain drugs
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because bone loss occurs without symptoms. It can be very far along before you notice it. Sometimes the first sign is a broken bone in your hip, spine, or wrist after a bump or fall. As the disease gets worse, you may have other signs, such as pain in your back. You might notice loss of height and that you have a curved backbone.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have osteoporosis, they can make an assessment using an online programme, such as FRAX or Q-Fracture. These tools help to predict a person’s risk of fracture between the ages of 40 and 90. The algorithms used give a 10-year probability of hip fracture. It also gives a 10-year probability of a major fracture in the spine, hip, shoulder or forearm.
Besides, you may have a test that measures your bone thickness. This is a simple test that measures bone mineral density—sometimes called BMD. BMD is the amount of bone you have in a given area. It is measured at different parts of your body. Often the measurements are at your spine and your hip. Your doctor may suggest you have a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry). This is a scan to measure the density of your bones.
What are the treatment options available?
Treatment program includes a focus on proper nutrition, exercise, and safety issues. This is to prevent falls that may result in fractures. In addition is medicine to reduce bone loss and build bone thickness. Medicine can also give you relief from pain caused by fractures.
The foods we eat contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. They help keep our bodies healthy. All of these nutrients are needed in balanced proportion. It’s important to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Because, you need calcium and vitamin D to build strong, healthy bones. Try yogurt, cheese, and milk (for calcium). Eat eggs, fatty fish, and soft margarine (for vitamin D). In addition, you can take daily vitamin D supplements. Talk to your doctor about how much you need.
Get plenty of exercise. Exercise is an important component of an osteoporosis prevention and treatment program. Exercise not only improves your bone health, but it increases muscle strength, coordination, and balance. This leads to better overall health. Although exercise is good for someone with osteoporosis, it should not put any sudden or excessive strain on your bones. Your doctor can recommend specific exercises to strengthen and support your back.
Several medications are available for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis such as:
- Bisphosphonates help treat bone loss. They may also help build bone mass.
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). SERMs may help slow the rate of bone loss after menopause.
- Calcitonin is a hormone made by your thyroid gland. It helps regulate calcium levels in your body and build bone mass.
- Menopausal hormone therapy may also help prevent bone loss.
- Teriparatide is an injectable form of human parathyroid hormone. It helps the body build up new bone faster than the old bone is broken down.
How can you prevent osteoporosis?
There are some lifestyle choices you can make to help prevent osteoporosis, such as:
Not Smoking. In addition to being harmful to the heart and lungs, smoking is also bad for bones. Because those who smoke may absorb less calcium from the foods they eat.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol in Excess. People who drink a lot of alcohol are more prone to bone loss and broken bones. This is due to poor diet and risk of falling.
Following a Healthy Diet. Following a nutritious diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D is critical to bone health.
Performing Weight-Bearing Exercise. Physical activities that force you to work against gravity, such as walking and hiking, strengthen your bones and your muscles.
Making even small changes in how you eat and exercise, along with taking medicine, can help prevent a broken bone. When you have osteoporosis, it’s important to protect yourself from falling. Reduce your risk of breaking a bone by making your home safer.
Make sure there’s enough light in your home. Remove throw rugs and clutter that you may trip over. Put sturdy handrails on stairs. Try exercises to increase your strength and balance.