Osteoporosis is a disease that causes your bones to weaken over time, increasing your chances of breaking a bone. Although the exact cause of osteoporosis is unknown, several factors can lead to the disease, some of which include aging, poor nutrition, lifestyle, and your gender. There are no treatments that can completely get rid of osteoporosis, but there are several nonsurgical treatments available that can help prevent the disease from getting worse. Additionally, there are many different things you can do to help avoid getting the disease. These preventative measures focus on staying healthy and taking care of your body.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes progressive bone loss and bone weakness. This disease often goes unnoticed for many years since symptoms do not appear right away. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis-caused bone weakness.
While breaking any bone causes unwanted pain and inconveniences, a hip fracture is by far the most serious and debilitating. Most patients who experience a hip fracture will need help from their family or home care during recovery and will need walking aids for several months. Nearly half of the people who get hip fractures will permanently need canes or walkers to move.
Although the exact cause of osteoporosis is unknown, several major factors lead to the disease, including:
- Body Frame Size. A smaller body frame may mean you have less bone mass, making you more prone to osteoporosis.
- Your Sex. Women have a higher chance of getting osteoporosis than men.
- Poor Nutrition & Lifestyle. Low calcium, tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive alcohol consumption can all cause the bones to weaken.
- Hormone Levels. If you have too much or too little of a particular hormone, it could increase your chances of getting osteoporosis. Some of these hormones include:
- Sex hormones. Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone. The reduction of estrogen levels in women at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis. Men experience a gradual reduction in testosterone levels as they age.
- Thyroid. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss.
- Medications. Steroids, glucocorticoids or corticosteroids can cause bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Other Illnesses. Including celiac disease, kidney or liver disease, and cancer.
There are usually no symptoms in the beginning stages of osteoporosis. But once your bones have weakened, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Your bones break easier than they used to.
- Loss of height over time.
- Back pain and Dowager’s hump (a severely rounded upper back), caused by a collapsed or fractured vertebrae.
- A stooped posture.
Your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician will take a look at your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination, as well as some other tests, including:
- X-rays. This test is used to determine if you have fractured a bone.
- Bone densitometry. This test shows the density of your bones. The higher the bone density, the healthier your bones are.
- Specialized laboratory tests.
If your physician suspects low bone mass, they may order more tests to make sure you have osteoporosis and not another disease with similar symptoms.
Since lost bone cannot be replaced, treatment for osteoporosis focuses on preventing any further bone loss. Only nonsurgical treatments are available.
There are several nonsurgical treatment options available to help prevent your osteoporosis from getting any worse. These treatments include:
- Medications that increase bone mass and reduce fracture risk.
- Alendronate (Fosamax).
- Risedronate (Actonel, Atelvia).
- Ibandronate (Boniva).
- Zoledronic acid (Reclast).
- Hormone-Related Therapy. For women, starting an estrogen treatment after menopause can help maintain proper bone density. For men, testosterone replacement therapy can also be used to help maintain bone density and overall bone health.
- Lifestyle changes. Ending unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can significantly help prevent your osteoporosis from worsening.
Although osteoporosis may seem inevitable, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting the disease.
These things include:
- Increase calcium intake. You need calcium to keep your bones healthy. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the recommended amount of calcium depending on your age is as follows:
- Males and females 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg per day
- Women and men 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg per day
- Pregnant or nursing women up to age 18: 1,300 mg per day
- Pregnant or nursing women 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg per day
- Women and men over 50: 1,200 mg per day
- Vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamin supplements can be taken if your diet does not contain enough of this nutrient. Make sure you consult with your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician before taking a vitamin supplement. Too much Vitamin D can be toxic.
- Increase protein intake. Protein is one of the building blocks of bone.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can help minimize bone loss while also providing many other additional health benefits. Additionally, most osteoporosis-related fractures happen due to falls, so doing activities that help improve balance will help you avoid falls altogether, ultimately preventing fractures.