Overview and Facts
Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, is a disease characterized by low bone density and structural deterioration of bone tissue. Low bone density means the bones become so fragile that they are much more likely to break. It is a very serious condition and if a bone fracture does occur, it can be very painful. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but bone fractures most commonly occur in the spine, wrists and hips.
It is estimated that 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and millions more are at risk, including roughly 55% of people aged 50 years and older. Osteoporosis is thought to be a disease only occurring in the elderly, but it can strike at any age.
Women and osteoporosis
Osteoporosis in women is much more common – 80% of those affected by osteoporosis are women, and they are four times more likely than men to develop it. Why does this happen? For a majority of women, the total amount of bone peaks between the ages of 25-30. After the peak, women usually start to lose bone. In the 5-10 years after menopause, women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass, which makes them very susceptible to osteoporosis. Although during this time there may be no symptoms to alert of the disease, a bone density test would likely be recommended.
Signs and Symptoms
Unfortunately, osteoporosis symptoms are practically nonexistent until a bone fracture occurs. People cannot feel their bones getting weaker, and once they develop osteoporosis, a fracture could occur as a result of a minor fall, or something as simple as a sneeze. However, there are a few osteoporosis symptoms that may indicate that bone health may be suffering:
- Gradual loss of height
- Backache or sudden severe back pain
Causes and Diagnosis
Osteoporosis is a disease that can be prevented, and an early diagnosis makes a big difference. Osteoporosis causes vary – there are many factors that increase osteoporosis risk, some of which people can control, and some that people cannot control:
- Family history
- Eating a low-calcium diet
- Inactive lifestyle
- Being female
- Suffering from an eating disorder
- Decrease in estrogen at menopause
The only way to detect bone density and diagnose osteoporosis is by having a bone mineral density (BMD) test. This is a test that lets you know the amount of bone mineral you have in a particular area of the bone. The lower a person’s bone mineral density, the more likely they are to having a bone fracture. A bone mineral density test does the following:
- Detect low bone density before a fracture occurs
- Predict the chances of a future bone fracture
- Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis after a broken bone
- Determine whether a person’s bone density is increasing, decreasing or remaining stable (the same)
- Monitor a person’s response to treatment
Tests and Treatment Options
There is no cure for osteoporosis. However, there are osteoporosis treatments that aim to prevent bone fractures by strengthening bone health. It is difficult to completely rebuild bone that has been weakened, so prevention of osteoporosis is as important as treatment. There are several medications that are used to treat osteoporosis, including bisphosphonates, antiresorptive medications and bone forming (anabolic) medications, such as:
Each of these medications works differently to strengthen bone health – the doctor who has made the osteoporosis diagnosis will be able to recommend the one that will work for each particular case of osteoporosis.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
The best way to treat osteoporosis, is to prevent it from developing. These are some tips that can people can fit into their lives that will help keep bone density as strong as possible:
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol excessively
- Get the daily recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D
- Keep an active lifestyle with regular weight-bearing exercise
- Have a bone density test
- Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health