The word “Osteoporosis” comes from two words – Osteo (bone) and Porosis (porous.) This disease makes your bones brittle and fragile, so they can break easier than normal. A simple bump or a fall can cause a major fracture. One third of men and half of women aged 60+ will suffer from one or more fractures due to osteoporosis.
There are many risk factors. The more you have, the more likely it is that you’ll contract osteoporosis. Risk factors include:
- Genes, which account for 80% of cases.
- Race. It is more common in Caucasians and Asians.
- Gender. Females are more likely to contract osteoporosis than males.
- A smaller body. If this is the case, your body may not have developed properly, so the optimum bone density isn’t correct.
- Hormones that alter the bone structure and mass. Women aged 50+ have lower amounts of estrogen, which increases their risk.
- Delayed puberty.
- Kidney failure, chronic liver disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Having an overactive thyroid or using thyroid hormones.
- Being a male with low testosterone levels.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Too much smoking and/or drinking.
- Long term use of corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone).
- Being 65+ years old, when osteoporosis can cause damage to many parts of the body including hips, vertebrae, wrists, the jawbone and even teeth.
There are no specific symptoms of osteoporosis; many people don’t know about it until they get a fracture (unless it’s a minor fracture, which doesn’t cause pain).
Once your bones become weak, you may experience back pain, fractures that happen more easily, a reduction in your height over a number of years and your posture may become stooped.
There are different ways of treating osteoporosis, depending on its severity and the problems it causes. First of all, you need to be tested. A bone density test is the best way to diagnose osteoporosis. It’s a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (DXA). The readings are given as T-scores. If your reading is above -1, your bone density is normal. If the reading is in the -1…-2.5 range, you have osteopenia. If your reading is -2.5 or lower, you have osteoporosis. A CT scan can also check your bones for problems.
Osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis. This is a phase in which your bones have started to thin out, but you don’t have full-blown osteoporosis yet! If you get treated, you may be able to prevent osteoporosis.
You must get enough calcium and vitamin D to strengthen your bones. If you can’t get them from food and daylight, supplements are necessary. You should also do weight-bearing exercises in order to prevent fractures, by making your bones stronger. There are also some medications that can help you; they decrease the rate of bone loss and help repair existing bones.
There is a lot more to osteoporosis than what I can cover in this article, but I hope that you now understand more about it, know how to prevent it and what to do if it does occur.