Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder that involves the loss of bone mass over time. It tends to be most common among elderly women. However, it can strike at any age. Over time, the thinning of your bones places you at greater risk for fractures that will take longer to heal and can lead to long-term disability. For this reason, it is important to understand the underlying causes that contribute to osteoporosis along with how to prevent and treat the condition so that you preserve your health.
Types of Osteoporosis
It is important to note that there are two types of osteoporosis that are classified according to the reasons why they occur and the effects they have on your bones.
Type 1 osteoporosis typically begins developing shortly after menopause and is related to the decreasing levels of estrogen in a woman’s body. In this type of osteoporosis, the spongy layer inside the harder core of your exterior bone begins to deteriorate. It is commonly seen in wrist and spine fractures.
Type 2 osteoporosis occurs later in life, usually after the age of 70. With this type, both the spongy inner layer and the hard exterior layer are affected. This leads to weakness in even the strongest bones of your body, and it is commonly associated with major hip and vertebral body fractures.
Common Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is known as being a sneaky illness since most people are unaware that they are affected until a bone breaks. This makes it extremely important for people who are at risk for bone loss to schedule regular exams and testing to identify the condition in the early stages. However, some people notice a loss of height as their spine begins to compress. A curvature of the spine that presents as a hunched or rounded back is another symptom that osteoporosis is developing. Pain may also occur due to minor fractures that go unnoticed until a physical exam reveals the break.
Risk Factors Involved
There are several risk factors involved in developing arthritis, and they fall into two categories: those that can be changed, and those that are predetermined in life. Women are more likely to get osteoporosis, and the risk for everyone goes up with age. People who are white or of Asian descent are also at an increased risk for osteoporosis-related fractures, and having a close family member with osteoporosis also increases your odds for bone loss.
While it may be upsetting to know that some of your personal attributes contribute to your developing the condition, it is reassuring to know that may risk factors can be changed. For example, osteoporosis strikes women after menopause due to the relationship between your hormones and bone mass. For this reason, managing hormonal conditions such as menopause, hypothyroidism and overactive adrenal glands reduces your risk.
Other health conditions also place you at risk for osteoporosis. Since consuming adequate calcium is essential for bone health, mental health and dietary conditions such as eating disorders, malnutrition and gastrointestinal surgery can interfere with your bone strength. Taking certain medications, such as for seizures or cancer has also been associated with reduced bone mass.
Diagnosis and Screening
A bone density test is a screening method used by doctors to assess the strength of a person’s bones, and it is valuable for the early detection of osteoporosis. It is currently recommended that all women age 65 and older should have a bone density test to check for the condition. However, anyone who is at risk for bone fractures due to osteoporosis should begin having screenings conducted earlier since prompt treatment plays a significant role in preventing further bone loss.
It is also important to note that ultrasound screenings are sometimes provided at health fairs to get younger adults interested in the prevention of osteoporosis. While an ultrasound cannot be used to accurately diagnosis osteoporosis, it can give you a snapshot of whether or not you should pursue further screening and testing with a trained physician.
When osteoporosis is suspected, your physician will use a combination of methods to make an accurate diagnosis. First, they will conduct a full physical exam that includes comparing your past height measurements to determine if there is a difference and an examination of your body for signs of previously broken bones. Your spine will be carefully assessed to check for curvature or changes in the shape of your spinal bones. Since family history also plays a role in developing osteoporosis, your doctor will ask if any of your close relatives have experienced hip fractures. Finally, your doctor may run tests to check for health conditions that are linked to bone thinning such as Cushing’s disease and hyperthyroidism, since treating these can slow your bone loss.
Lifestyle Factors and Treatment
Lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis, and they can slow the progression of the condition in those who already have bone loss. For this reason, treatment for osteoporosis involves assessing a patient’s current lifestyle and health history to identify possible factors that are contributing to bone loss. Once these are identified, a treatment plan can be implemented that takes a full-on approach to slowing bone thinning.
Vitamins are frequently prescribed to people with osteoporosis. This is because many people are deficient in vitamin D, which helps the body to absorb calcium. If you are found to be vitamin D and calcium deficient, then your doctor may recommend supplements and getting at least 15 minutes of sunshine each day to stimulate your body’s production of these important nutrients.
Regular weight-bearing exercise is also a common part of treatment since it stimulates your bones to maintain their strength. Walking, running and lifting weights are all effective forms of weight-bearing exercise. Due to the potential for fractures, those with known osteoporosis should talk to their physician about the best exercises for strengthening bones without risking a break.
Although everyone should quit smoking and drinking, those with osteoporosis will need to make it a priority. This is because nicotine and alcohol contribute to vitamin deficiencies and hormonal fluctuations that affect the bones. The current recommendation is for men to limit drinking to no more than two alcoholic beverages a day and women one. However, abstaining completely has the best effect for reducing bone loss.
In some cases, your doctor may use prescription medications to slow bone loss. Often, these are designed to help treat underlying conditions such as menopause through hormone replacement. Depending upon your history of fractures, your doctor may also treat your pain and discomfort. For example, a compression fracture in your spine can hurt for months, so you may be given a back brace along with pain-relieving medications.
Osteoporosis is a slow-progressing disease, which means many things can be done to delay bone thinning and protect your health. Making a healthy lifestyle a priority is your best defense against the disease, and being screened if you have risk factors can help catch it in the early stages. Today, an early osteoporosis diagnosis gives you the best chance for preserving your wellbeing by making lifestyle changes that reduce bone loss over time.