All You Need To Know About Osteoporosis
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a common disease that makes bones thinner, which makes them more likely to break. These fractures can lead to different health problems, like pain, stooped posture, or trouble moving around.
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones. Its name comes from Latin for “porous bones.”
Many people lose bone gradually over many years. There are no symptoms that tell you it’s happening. But it is possible to treat osteoporosis with medications and healthy lifestyle choices. If you make those good habits part of your life early on, you can prevent bone loss and lower the chances you’ll break a bone.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
We don’t know a lot about what causes the condition, but we do know how it progresses throughout a person’s life.
Your body constantly breaks down old bone and rebuilds it. This process is called remodeling. As you grow up, your body builds more bone than it removes. During childhood, your bones become larger and stronger. Peak bone mass happens when you have the most bone you will ever have, usually in your early to mid-30s.
At a certain age, the bone remodeling process changes. New bone comes in at a slower rate. This slowdown leads to a drop in the amount of bone you have.
When bone loss becomes more severe, you have osteoporosis.
If osteoporosis becomes severe, the normal stress on bones from sitting, standing, coughing, or even hugging can cause painful fractures. After the first fracture, you’re more likely to get more.
For some people, the pain from a fracture may get better as the bone heals. But others will have long-lasting pain. You may feel stiff and have trouble being active.
Osteoporosis can occur in people of any age, but it’s more common in older adults, especially women.
Osteoporosis usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. But after many years, you may notice signs like back pain, a loss of height, or a stooped posture. For some people, the first sign they have of the disease is a broken bone, usually in the spine or hip. In most cases, people with osteoporosis don’t know they have the condition until they have a fracture.
The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner.
The early stages of osteoporosis don’t cause any symptoms or warning signs. If symptoms do appear, some of the earlier ones may include:
- receding gums
- weakened grip strength
- weak and brittle nails
If you don’t have symptoms but have a family history of osteoporosis, talking to your doctor can help you assess your risk.
Without appropriate treatment, osteoporosis can worsen. As bones get thinner and weaker, the risk of fracture increases.
Symptoms of severe osteoporosis can include a fracture from a fall or even from a strong sneeze or cough. They can also include back or neck pain, or loss of height.
Back or neck pain or loss of height can be caused by a compression fracture. This is a break in one of the vertebrae in your neck or back, which is so weak that it breaks under the normal pressure in your spine.
If you do have a fracture from osteoporosis, how long it takes to heal will depend on many factors. These include where the fracture is, how severe it is, as well as your age and health history.
Osteoporosis risk factors
The biggest risk factor of osteoporosis is age. Throughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and grows new bone.
However, when you’re in your 30s, your body starts breaking down bone faster than it’s able to replace it. This leads to bone that’s less dense and more fragile, and thus more prone to breakage.
Menopause is another primary risk factor, which occurs in women around the ages of 45 to 55 years. Due to the change in hormone levels associated with it, menopause can cause a woman’s body to lose bone even more quickly.
Men continue to lose bone at this age, but at a slower rate than women do. However, by the time they reach the ages of 65 to 70, women and men are usually losing bone at the same rate.
Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- being female
- being Caucasian or Asian
- having a family history of osteoporosis
- poor nutrition
- physical inactivity
- low body weight
- small-boned frame
You can control some of these risk factors for osteoporosis, such as poor nutrition and inactivity. For instance, you can improve your diet and start an exercise program can benefit your bone health. However, you can’t control other risk factors, such as your age or gender.
To understand osteoporosis, it can help to see what normal bone looks like versus bone affected by osteoporosis.
Bone density test for diagnosis
To check for osteoporosis, your doctor will review your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also run tests of your blood and urine to check for conditions that may cause bone loss.
If your doctor thinks you may have osteoporosis or that you’re at risk of developing it, they’ll likely suggest a bone density test.
This test is called bone densitometry, or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). It uses X-rays to measure the density of the bones in your wrists, hips, or spine. These are the three areas most at risk of osteoporosis. This painless test can take from 10 to 30 minutes.
If your testing shows that you have osteoporosis, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan. Your doctor will likely prescribe medications as well as lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can include increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin D, as well as getting appropriate exercise.
There’s no cure for osteoporosis, but proper treatment can help protect and strengthen your bones. These treatments can help slow the breakdown of bone in your body, and some treatments can spur the growth of new bone.
The most common drugs used to treat osteoporosis are called bisphosphonates. Bisphosphonates are used to prevent the loss of bone mass. They may be taken orally or by injection. Kindly consult your Orthopedic Consultant before starting any medication.
Other medications may be used to prevent bone loss or stimulate bone growth. They include:
In men, testosterone therapy may help increase bone density.
For women, estrogen used during and after menopause can help stop bone density loss. Unfortunately, estrogen therapy has also been associated with increased risk of blood clots, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
In addition to your treatment plan, an appropriate diet can help strengthen your bones. To keep your bones healthy, you need to include certain nutrients in your daily diet. The most important ones are calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs calcium to maintain strong bones, and it needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Other nutrients that promote bone health include protein, magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc.
To learn more about an eating plan that’s right for you, talk to your doctor. They can advise you on your diet, or refer you to a registered dietitian who can create a diet or meal plan for you.
Exercises for osteoporosis
Eating right isn’t the only thing you can do to support the health of your bones. Exercise is very important as well, especially weight-bearing exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises are performed with either your feet or your arms fixed to the ground or another surface. Examples include:
- climbing stairs
- resistance training, such as:
- leg presses
- weight training, such as working with:
- resistance bands
- resistance exercise machines
These exercises help because they cause your muscles to push and pull against your bones. This action tells your body to form new bone tissue, which strengthens your bones.
This isn’t your only benefit from exercise, however. In addition to its many positive effects on weight and heart health, exercise can also improve your balance and coordination, which can help you avoid falls. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot control. These include being female, getting older, and having a family history of osteoporosis. There are some factors, however, that do fall within your control.
Some of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis include:
- getting recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D
- doing weight-bearing exercises
- stopping smoking
- for women, weighing the pros and cons of hormone therapy
If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the best way to prevent it.
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