One out of every five women over the age of fifty has osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease that decreases bone mass and density. Osteoporosis can lead to serious health problems, including an increased risk of bone fracture or injury. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of osteoporosis is the first step in taking control of your bone health.
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Though anyone can get osteoporosis, the disease is much more common among older women than older men. Women over age 50 and men over age 70 are at risk for osteoporosis. White women are at greater risk than other races. Many people with a family history of osteoporosis will also develop the disorder.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is caused by the combination of a loss of bone density and a failure to create new bone tissue. As women age, their estrogen levels decline. Estrogen is one of the hormonal regulators of osteoclasts, the cells that reabsorb old bone to make space for new bone. With less estrogen in the body, osteoclasts become more active, and the body cannot produce new bone as quickly as osteoclasts remove it. Likewise, a decrease in testosterone in men can allow osteoclasts to be over-productive in removing bone tissue.
Osteoporosis has also been linked to other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and chronic kidney disease. Eating disorders or overly restrictive diets can deprive the body of bone-building nutrients and minerals. Some hormone treatments for cancer also lead to osteoporosis. Smoking and drinking alcohol are risk factors for osteoporosis.What Are the Symptoms?Osteoporosis is marked by a decrease in bone density, but you may not know that your bones have been weakened until an injury occurs. Late stages of the disease are often accompanied by bone or joint tenderness, a decrease in height, back and neck pain, and hunched posture.How Is Osteoporosis Treated?Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a bone density scan which measure the density and health of your bones. X-rays can also reveal the state of the spine or hips.There is no cure for osteoporosis, but medications and lifestyle changes can manage pain and delay further injury or bone loss. Bisphosphonates is a class of drugs used in post-menopausal women, and calcitonin is a medicine that slows bone loss and relieves bone pain. Hormone replacement therapy was a popular treatment in the past, but it is less common now because of the possible risks involved.Osteoporosis can also be treated through regular, low-impact exercise like water aerobics, dancing, yoga, and tai chi. High-impact exercises are discouraged because of the risk of injury. A high-calcium diet can also provide the body with the minerals it needs to keep bones healthy. High calcium foods include cheese, skim milk and leafy green vegetables.
Managing osteoporosis is possible with medication, lifestyle changes, and a cessation of unhealthy habits like smoking. The best management for osteoporosis is prevention. A high-calcium diet before menopause combined with a healthy lifestyle is the best osteoporosis prevention, but identifying osteoporosis early on is also a valuable step. If you suspect you are at risk for bone loss, speak with your doctor about preventative steps that you can take now to reduce the likelihood of future bone fractures or injuries.