Basics & Facts
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by decreased bone strength. Subsequently, patients with the condition are more susceptible to broken bones and fractures as they age. It is a common disorder, which the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates as affecting 40 million Americans.
While age, gender and ethnicity play major roles in terms of risk factors, osteoporosis can happen to anyone. Treatments can help minimize symptoms and improve quality of life, especially when patients seek care early on. At the same time, medical doctors are emphasizing preventative care, as osteoporosis is widely thought to be preventable in many cases. Such measures are even more crucial given the fact that this condition is often void of any noticeable symptoms.
Symptoms & Types
Bone mass increases throughout childhood and peaks during the teen years. Since most people reach their maximum height by their late teens, bone mass may start to gradually decline starting at 20 years of age. The trouble is that there is no method of self-detection when it comes to bone loss. In fact, patients may not even know they have osteoporosis until they experience broken bones.
Osteoporosis can cause fractures in any part of the body, depending on where the weakest bones are. Hip fractures are extremely common, and they are also the most debilitating in both men and women. Older people are conceived as being most vulnerable to osteoporosis because they are most prone to falls that can result in fractures.
Causes & Diagnosis
Osteoporosis is directly linked to decreased bone mass as well as bone weakness. However, there are numerous risk factors that can make the development of the disease more likely. Osteoporosis tends to be the most common in:
- Asian and white women
- White men
- Individuals over 50 years of age
- People with small frames
- Underweight patients
- Those who have a family history of the condition
- Patients with hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism
Certain medications and lifestyle habits may also increase the risk for developing osteoporosis. These include:
- Smoking tobacco
- A lack of calcium in the diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Taking too much thyroxine for thyroid health
- Drugs for chemotherapy
Broken bones and fractures may be a sign of osteoporosis, but the key is to obtain a diagnosis before injuries occur. The only way to accomplish this is through a bone density test from a medical doctor. A decrease in height between physical exams may be a sign of osteoporosis. Patients have the best chances of gaining early diagnoses by providing detailed medical information and family history to doctors.
Individuals who have any risk factors should do what they can to help prevent the development of osteoporosis. While certain factors, such as ethnicity and gender, cannot be changed, other factors like lifestyle habits are easily changed with dedication.
Nutrition plays a key role in the development of bone mass, but maintaining good eating habits can also help to sustain bone health for life. It is important to consume adequate amounts of calcium as well as vitamin D and vitamin K. The National Academy of Sciences recommends at least 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU vitamin D per day for adults. Older women likely need higher levels to preserve bone health. Regular weight-bearing exercises are also important in making the bones stronger so they are less susceptible to breakage later in life.
Treatment & Management
The goal of osteoporosis treatment is to help prevent fractures that may inhibit quality of life. A combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help make this a possibility for many patients.
Since good nutrition and regular exercise plays a role in osteoporosis prevention, it only makes sense to incorporate these factors into a management plan for the disease. Some patients may benefit immensely from working with a registered dietitian to help ensure all nutritional requirements are met on a regular basis. Working out is equally important, and strength-training is crucial to help keep bones intact. Patients who have suffered from broken bones should speak with a doctor before starting an exercise program.
Smoking and excessive alcohol use are dangerous for anyone, but such bad habits can also worsen osteoporosis. These can decrease body nutrients and can affect hormone levels in women, which may contribute to the condition. For the best bet, don’t smoke and only drink alcohol in moderation if a doctor gives the go-ahead.
Bisphosphonates are the most commonly prescribed medications for osteoporosis. These drugs help to slow down decreases in bone mass, which is especially useful for older patients who may already be experiencing natural bone loss. Bisphosphonates are prescribed in the form of pills or injections, the latter of which may be helpful for patients who cannot easily ingest tablets. According to the Mayo Clinic, these medications are safe for most patients to take for up to five years.
Everyone experiences a natural drop in bone mass as they age. What sets osteoporosis patients apart from everyone else is both the rapidity and amount of the loss in bone mass. Those who are at risk for the bone disease can help prevent the effects by embarking on healthy lifestyle habits. There are ongoing studies about osteoporosis, but current treatments can help patients lead a better quality of life.