Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become brittle, porous, and fragile and break easily. Any bone can break with osteoporosis, but breaks most often occur in the hips, wrists and spine (vertebrae).
Osteoporosis comes from a lack of bone mass or a structural deterioration of the bone. Most of a person’s total bone mass is acquired by the time they reach their late teens (around 85%). Acquiring bone mass early in life is important in reducing the risk of osteoporosis. To prevent or manage the disease a person should start early by getting the recommended amounts of vitamin D and calcium and bone strengthening exercise. Muscle strengthening exercises also strengthen the bones. Smoking and excessive drinking and a poor diet (early on and later in life) can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is thought of to be a disease for the elderly, but it can happen to anyone. It occurs more often in people over 50 and women are much more at risk than men. After menopause, risk of osteoporosis increases, as bone mass is decreased by up to 20%. Of all of the Americans with the disease, 80% are women. It affects Americans of all ethnicities, though more often the Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino population. Other risk factors include people with a poor diet low in vitamins and minerals, people with a history of osteoporosis (family history), broken bones, anorexia, and people with low estrogen or testosterone. Smoking and excessive drinking also increase a person’s risk.
As the bones get weaker and more brittle, they fracture more easily. As there is no external way to see if you have osteoporosis, most people don’t know they have it unless they start experiencing pain or break a bone. Fractures in the spine can occur without pain, but sometimes people start stooping or even start losing height. Weak bones will easily break from a fall or other trauma, but brittle bones can also break from something as seemingly innocuous as a sneeze.
A patient’s health care provider might not know of the person’s osteoporosis until a break or other symptom occurs. However, special tests can be run at any time to gauge a person’s bone mass. Bone Mineral Density tests or BMD, measures bone density. If the tests are taken over time, a person can see if their bone mass is decreasing.
For prevention, many health care professionals suggest getting the daily recommended amounts of vitamin D and calcium and getting the following kinds of exercise:
- Weight-bearing, high-impact – climbing stairs, hiking, running, or jumping rope
- Muscle strengthening – weight lifting, tai chi or other gravity resistance training
- Stretching – yoga, Pilates and other posture aligning/balance exercises
There is no known cure for osteoporosis, but there are several approved medications to treat the disease. Keeping bones strong and maintaining bone density is key in keeping risk low.