Know the basics
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is the continuing thinning and loss of density in bones (bone mass), which makes bones more brittle, fragile, and likely to break after minor trauma. Loss of height and back pain are common. Women are at special risk for osteoporosis after menstrual periods end (menopause). Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine, but any bone can be affected. Some broken bones may not heal, especially when they occur at the hip.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease, and it may not be evident until a bone breaks. Many people think that osteoporosis is a natural and unavoidable part of aging. However, medical experts now believe that osteoporosis is largely preventable. Furthermore, people who already have osteoporosis can take steps to prevent or slow further progress of the disease and reduce their risk of future fractures.
How common is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women — especially older women who are past menopause — are at highest risk. You can limit your risk of having osteoporosis by reducing the risk factors. Please consult your doctor for more information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
No symptoms may be obvious early in the disease, but in time, low back and neck pain, stooped posture, and gradual loss of height may be seen. In other cases the first sign is a fracture (ribs, wrists, or hips). Bones (vertebrae) in the spine may collapse (become flattened or compressed) and break, which is the most common fracture. Hip fractures can cause the greatest disability.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You may want to talk to your doctor about osteoporosis if you went through early menopause, took corticosteroids for several months at a time, or either of your parents had hip fractures. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes osteoporosis?
Normal bone formation needs the minerals calcium and phosphate. If the body does not get enough calcium from the diet, bone production and bone tissues may suffer.
The main causes of osteoporosis include aging, which leads to a drop in estrogen in women at menopause and a drop in testosterone (a male hormone) in men.
Your bones are in a constant state of renewal — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you are young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass by their early 20s. As people age, bone mass is lost faster than it is created.
How likely you are to develop osteoporosis depends partly on how much bone mass you attained in your youth. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for osteoporosis?
Risk factors include being underweight, lifestyle habits (being sedentary or inactive), alcohol use, cigarette smoking, eating disorders, taking certain drugs, some chronic diseases, and long-term bed rest or immobilization.
Many risk factors can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. Some of these things you cannot change and others you can.
Risk factors you cannot change include:
- Gender: Women get osteoporosis more often than men.
- Age: The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
- Body size: Small, thin women are at greater risk.
- Family history: Osteoporosis tends to run in families. If a family member has osteoporosis or breaks a bone, there is a greater chance that you will too.
Other risk factors you can change include:
- Sex hormones. Low estrogen levels due to missing menstrual periods or to menopause can cause osteoporosis in women. Low testosterone levels can bring on osteoporosis in men.
- Anorexia nervosa. This eating disorder can lead to osteoporosis.
- Calcium and vitamin D intake. A diet low in calcium and vitamin D makes you more prone to bone loss.
- Medication use. Some medicines increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Activity level. Lack of exercise or long-term bed rest can cause weak bones.
- Cigarettes are bad for bones, and the heart, and lungs, too.
- Drinking alcohol. Too much alcohol can cause bone loss and broken bones.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Lifestyle changes may help reduce fracture risk. Such changes include doing regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises, stopping smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and getting enough calcium (at least 1200 mg/day) and vitamin D (at least 800 IU/day) in the diet. Calcium supplements may increase calcium intake, with vitamin D used to help the body absorb calcium. Treatments focus on slowing down or stopping bone loss and on preventing bone fractures by minimizing the risk of falls.
Different drugs, including bisphosphonates such as alendronate, and adequate supplementation of calcium and vitamin D are used as well.
A comprehensive treatment program includes a focus on proper nutrition, exercise, and prevention of falls that may result in fractures. Your doctor may also prescribe one of several medications that have been shown to slow or stop bone loss or build new bone, increase bone density, and reduce fracture risk.
Nutrition: The foods we eat contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that help keep our bodies healthy. All of these nutrients are needed in balanced proportion. In particular, calcium and vitamin D are needed for strong bones.
Exercise: Exercise is an important component of an osteoporosis prevention and treatment program. Exercise not only improves your bone health, but it increases muscle strength, coordination, and balance, and leads to better overall health. Although exercise is good for someone with osteoporosis, it should not put any sudden or excessive strain on your bones.
Therapeutic medications: Several medications are available for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis, including: bisphosphonates; estrogen agonists/antagonists, calcitonin; parathyroid hormone; estrogen therapy; hormone therapy.
How is osteoporosis treated?
A bone mineral density test is the best way to check your bone health. During this painless test, you lie on a padded table as a scanner passes over your body. In most cases, only a few bones are checked — usually in the hip, wrist and spine.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage osteoporosis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Osteoporosis:
- Follow your doctor’s appointment for monitoring progression of symptoms as well as your health condition.
- Listen to your doctor’s instruction, do not take non-prescribed medicines or miss your dose.
- Consult a physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist for exercises to strengthen your muscles.
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Follow a healthy diet, rich in foods containing calcium, such as dairy products, fish, beans, and green vegetables.
- Do not smoke.
- Avoid excessive alcohol. Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day may decrease bone formation. Being under the influence also can increase your risk of falling.
- Prevent falls. Wear low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles and check your house for electrical cords, area rugs and slippery surfaces that might cause you to trip or fall. Keep rooms brightly lit, install grab bars just inside and outside your shower door, and make sure you can get into and out of your bed easily.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017