Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones to become weak and brittle, placing them at a high risk for fracture. In all individuals, bone wears down over time, but is replaced with new bone tissue. As people age, bone loss occurs at a faster rate than new bone is created, resulting in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the result of increasing bone loss, and is more common in older people, especially women.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
In many cases people do not even know that they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. There are typically no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis, but as the condition progresses, symptoms may include:
- Back pain from a collapsed vertebra
- Stooped posture
- Loss of height over time
- Bones that fracture easily
The most serious risk for people with osteoporosis is hip fracture following a fall. Bones affected by osteoporosis are extremely weak and even everyday activities can result in a fracture. Spinal compression fractures are the most common osteoporosis-related injury and can be triggered simply by bending over.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
While osteoporosis commonly affects people older than the age of 60, especially post-menopausal women, there are other risk factors for developing osteoporosis which may include:
- Family history
- Over-active thyroid
- Low calcium intake
- Eating disorders such as anorexia
- Long-term use of steroids
- Small and thin stature
Osteoporosis is more common in people who are of Caucasian or Asian descent. Smoking and heavy alcohol use also may also put people at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.
Diagnosis of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is diagnosed after a physical examination and a review of symptoms and a complete medical history. X-rays are taken and a bone density test is administered to check the mineral levels within the bones and determine bone health.
Treatment of Osteoporosis
While lost bone cannot be replaced, a treatment plan may be developed to manage symptoms and prevent further weakening. Treatment often includes medication to slow or stop bone loss and reduce the risk of fracture. Medications may include bisphosphonates or hormone therapy with estrogen (ERT) for women. In addition, patients with osteoporosis are advised to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, as well as exercise regularly to increase muscle strength. Regular bone density testing can help to detect osteoporosis early, before a fracture occurs.