Written by eHealth Navigator

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist. Men as well as women are affected by osteoporosis, a disease that may be prevented and treated. In the United States, more than 40 million people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass.

Certain risk factors are linked to the development of osteoporosis and contribute to an individual’s likelihood of developing the disease. Many people with osteoporosis have several risk factors, but others who develop the disease have no known risk factors. Some risk factors cannot be changed, but you can change others.

Risk factors you cannot change:
a. Gender. Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you are a woman. Women have less bone tissue and lose bone faster than men because of the changes that happen with menopause.
b. Age. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
c. Body size. Small, thin-boned women are at greater risk.
d. Ethnicity. Caucasian and Asian women are at highest risk. African American and Hispanic women have a lower but significant risk.
e. Family history. Fracture risk may be due, in part, to heredity. People whose parents have a history of fractures also seem to have reduced bone mass and may be at risk for fractures.

Risk factors you can change:
a. Sex hormones. Abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea), low estrogen level (menopause), and low testosterone level in men can bring on osteoporosis.
b. Anorexia nervosa. Characterized by an irrational fear of weight gain, this eating disorder increases your risk for osteoporosis.
c. Calcium and vitamin D intake. A lifetime diet low in calcium and vitamin D makes you more prone to bone loss.
d. Medication use. Long-term use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids and some anticonvulsants can lead to loss of bone density and fractures.
e. Lifestyle. An inactive lifestyle or extended bed rest tends to weaken bones.
f. Cigarette smoking. Smoking is bad for bones as well as the heart and lungs.
g. Alcohol intake. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of bone loss and fractures.

Telltale Signs:

It is unfortunate, but osteporosis does not announce its appearance with early warning signs.  By the time you develop obvious symptoms, the condiditon has already progressed to the poiint where your bones have become fragile.  Your best defense against this "silent" disease is to be alert to the risk factors and talk to your doctor if any of them apply to you.  Once osteoporosis has become advanced, you may notice that you seem to getting shorter, your abdomen begins to protrude, or there is some evidence of wrist or hip fractures.  Eventually you may notice that you are developing the stooped posture often referred to as a "dowager's hump."  You may also find that coughing or sneezing brings on back pain or that your back will ache while you are sitting or standing but that the pain goes away when you lie down.

There are some test that can detect osteoporiss in its early stages, which is why it is so important to talk to your doctor if you have any of the risk factors.  For example your doctor can check the amount of calcium in your urine to see if you are excreting unusual amounts of this important mineral.  A quick, painless bone density test can detect bone loss long before it would show up on a regular x-ray.  And when this test is repeated over time, your doctor can track your rate of bone loss. 

Treatment Options:

There are a number of different types of medication your doctor can prescribe to slow bone loss and, in some cases, to reverse the process of bone loss.  Because each person is different, it is important to discuss treatment options with your doctor.  Some people respond better to one drug than others.

By far the best way of stopping osteoporsis is to begin preventive measures above early.

Additional information on osteoporosis click for the following videos, key facts, key terms, and articles or visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 11:52AM