What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a systematic skeletal disorder that affects the bones, making them so fragile that any fall or even simple effort such as bending or coughing can cause fractures. Fractures associated with osteoporosis most commonly occur in the hip, wrist, and spine.
The structure of healthy bones consists of small spaces. Osteoporosis causes these spaces to widen, which makes the bone lose its strength and density.
Osteoporosis can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in people over 50 years of age. Moreover, women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men, especially after menopause. Medications, healthy lifestyle, and exercising can help prevent the loss of bone density and strengthen the weakened bones.
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of bone density loss. Most people with osteoporosis do not know that they have this condition until bone fractures start to occur.
If symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Loss of height and stooped posture
- Fractures of the hip, wrist, or spine
What are the causes of osteoporosis?
Your likelihood of developing osteoporosis depends in part on how much bone mass you gain during your youth. Genetic factors control peak bone mass to some extent. The bone mass reaches its highest peak at the age of 30. the more bone mass you have, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis when you get older.
The following risk factors may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis:
- Gender. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men.
- Age. Your risk of developing osteoporosis increases as you get older.
- Family history. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk of developing this condition.
- Body structure size. Men and women with small body structures are at higher risk. This is because their bone mass is usually less and decreases as they age.
- Sex hormones. Low levels of the sex hormone tend to weaken bones. One of the strongest risk factors for osteoporosis is low levels of estrogen in women during menopause.
- Thyroid problems. Bone loss can be caused by high levels of thyroid hormone. This can happen if your thyroid gland is overactive, or if you take too much thyroid hormone medications to treat hypothyroidism.
- Calcium deficiency. Low calcium intake contributes to lower bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
Bone fractures, especially in the spine, are the most prominent complications of osteoporosis.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Bone density can be measured with a machine that uses low levels of X-rays (DEXA scan) to determine the level of minerals in your bones. During this painless test, you will be asked to lie on a table while a scanner passes over your body. In most cases, only a few bones are examined – usually the hip and spine.
How is osteoporosis treated?
Treatment recommendations are often based on an estimate of your risk of breaking a bone over the next 10 years, through information such as a bone density test. If the risk is not high, treatment may not include any medications and focus instead on modifying risk factors for bone loss and falls.
The most common medicines used to treat osteoporosis are called bisphosphonates. This kind of medications helps to prevent the loss of bone mass and can be used in conjunction with other treatments that stimulate bone growth, such as testosterone injection and hormone therapy.