Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone.” This disease weakens bone density and mass, leading to fragile bones that can easily be broken in a fall. Over 53 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis or are at high risk for developing it, but the disease can be prevented and treated in most cases.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Women are far more likely to get osteoporosis than men, especially white and Asian women, and women who have smaller frames. Older people are significantly more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include a family history of osteoporosis, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, low activity levels, a diet low in calcium and Vitamin D, and longtime use of some medications, including glucocorticoids. Some chronic diseases can also lead to bone loss.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis often has no external symptoms and is not discovered until a person has a sudden fracture. Some patients with osteoporosis in their vertebrae have back pain or develop a hunched back.
Diagnosis of Osteoporosis
A bone mineral density test is the first step toward an osteoporosis diagnosis, after a general physical exam. A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) test, which works much like a normal X-ray, can measure bone mineral density at various points across your body, like your thigh, your hip and your spine. If the DXA shows possible osteoporosis, your provider may order more bloodwork or other scans.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
Prevention of osteoporosis is the best treatment. A healthy diet with good amounts of calcium and Vitamin D, along with regular exercise and strength-training, can go a long way toward helping prevent osteoporosis for many people. Post-menopausal women at risk may also want to consider taking estrogen supplements.
For patients where osteoporosis has already developed, nutrition and exercise will be a part of treatment. Certain medications like bisphosphonates, calcitonin, estrogen and other hormones may be prescribed. Fall prevention will also be important, especially for older patients, and orthopedic shoes, canes or shower stools could be recommended to help maintain safe mobility.