Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break (fracture).

 Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but it is common in older women. As many as half of all women and a quarter of men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.Osteoporosis is a silent disease. You might not know you have it until you break a bone. A bone mineral density test is the best way to check your bone health. To keep bones strong, eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise and do not smoke. If needed, medicines can also help.

Be sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D to build and maintain healthy bone. Following a healthy, well-balanced diet can help you get these and other important nutrients.

Other tips for prevention:
  • Do not drink large amounts of alcohol.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Get regular exercise.

A major risk is not having enough calcium to build new bone tissue. It is important to eat enough high-calcium foods. You also need vitamin D, since it helps your body absorb calcium.

Your bones may become brittle and more likely to fracture if:
  • If you do not eat enough food with calcium and vitamin D
  • Your body does not absorb enough calcium from your food, such as after gastric bypass surgery
Other risk factors include:
  • Absence of menstrual periods for long periods of time
  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • Drinking a large amount of alcohol
  • Low body weight
  • Smoking
  • Having an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa

Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease.

Osteoporosis increases the risk of breaking a bone. About half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bones of the spine) during their lifetime. Spine fractures are the most common.

Your body needs the minerals calcium and phosphate to make and keep healthy bones.
  • During your life, your body continues to both reabsorb old bone and create new bone.
  • As long as your body has a good balance of new and old bone, your bones stay healthy and strong.
  • Bone loss occurs when more old bone is reabsorbed than new bone is created.

Sometimes, bone loss occurs without any known cause. Other times, bone loss and thin bones run in families. In general, white, elderly women are the most likely to have bone loss.

Brittle, fragile bones can be caused by anything that makes your body destroy too much bone, or keeps your body from making enough new bone. As you age, your body may reabsorb calcium and phosphate from your bones instead of keeping these minerals in your bones. This makes your bones weaker. 

Other causes of bone loss include:
  • A decrease in estrogen in women at the time of menopause and a decrease in testosterone in men as they age.
  • Being confined to a bed due to a prolonged illness (mostly affects bone in children)
  • Having certain medical conditions that cause increased inflammation in the body
  • Taking certain medicines, such as certain seizure medicines, hormone treatments for prostate or breast cancer, and steroid medicines taken for more than 3 months

There are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. Many times, people will have a fracture before learning they have the disease.

Fractures of the bones of the spine can cause pain almost anywhere in the spine. These are called compression fractures. They often occur without an injury. The pain occurs suddenly or slowly over time.

There can be a loss of height (as much as 6 inches) over time. A stooped posture or a condition called a dowager's hump may develop.

Medicines to treat osteoporosis can help prevent future fractures. But spine bones that have already collapsed cannot be made stronger.

Osteoporosis can cause a person to become disabled from weakened bones. Hip fractures are one of the main reasons people are admitted to nursing homes.

Treatment for osteoporosis may involve:
  • Making lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet and exercise routine
  • Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Using medicines
Medicines are used to strengthen bones when:
  • Osteoporosis has been diagnosed by a bone density study, whether or not you have a fracture and your fracture risk is high.
  • You have had a bone fracture and a bone density test shows that you have thin bones, but not osteoporosis.
Exercise plays a key role in preserving bone density in older adults. Some of the exercises recommended to reduce your chance of a fracture include:
  • Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing
  • Free weights, weight machines, stretch bands
  • Balance exercises such as tai chi and yoga
  • Rowing machines
  • Avoid any exercise that presents a risk of falling. Also, do not do high-impact exercises that can cause fractures in older adults.
Stop unhealthy habits:
  • Quit smoking, if you smoke.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can damage your bones. This puts you at risk of falling and breaking a bone.
It is important to prevent falls. These suggestions can help:
  • Do not take sedating medicines, which can make you drowsy and unsteady. If you must take them, be extra careful when you are up and about. For example, hold on to countertops or sturdy furniture to avoid falling.
  • Remove household hazards, such as throw rugs, to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Leave lights on at night so you can see better when walking around your house.
  • Install and use safety grab bars in the bathroom.
  • Install anti-slip flooring in bathtubs and showers.
  • Make sure your vision is good. Have your eyes checked once or twice a year by an eye doctor.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and have low heels. This includes slippers. Slippers that do not have heels can cause you to trip and fall.
  • Do not walk outdoors alone on icy days.
Surgery to treat severe, disabling pain from spinal fractures due to osteoporosis include:
  • Kyphoplasty (a material is placed into a bone of your spine to restore the height of the vertebrae)
  • Spinal fusion (bones of your spine are joined together so they do not move against each other)