Osteoporosis is the thinning of bones that can result in painful fractures. Major risk factors include low body weight, low sex hormones or menopause, smoking and some medications.
Other risk factors include a family history of hip fractures and men and women with small body frames. Osteoporosis is more common in people who have reduced estrogen levels, thyroid problems and overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands. In addition, individuals with low calcium intake, eating disorders and gastrointestinal surgery are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
While osteoporosis can affect both men and women, white and Asian women, especially those who are past menopause, are at the highest risk of developing it.
Osteopenia is the forerunner of osteoporosis. The condition is generally silent but can be quite destructive on bones. Bone mineral density is lower than normal with osteopenia. Osteopenia can be detected with a bone density test.
The bone loss associated with this process occurs over many years. It can also become quite severe to the extent that even coughing, sitting, standing or hugging could result in factures and immobility. Osteoporosis-related fractures occur most commonly in the hip, spine or wrist.
Our body constantly breaks down old bones and rebuilds new ones. This process is called remodeling. As we grow up, our body builds more bone. The peak bone mass generally occurs during the third decade of life when the person has the maximum amount of bone mass. When we reach a certain age, our bone remodeling changes and our bones get laid down at a slower rate. The total amount of bone decreases. If this total reaches a certain point, it can result in osteopenia. If bone loss continues and becomes even more severe, it can result in osteoporosis.
There are no major symptoms in the early stages. However, once the bones weaken further than those suffering from it may see signs and symptoms including back pain, loss of height, a stooped posture and bone fractures that occur more easily.
It is generally recommended that you discuss osteoporosis with your healthcare provider if you have gone through early menopause, if you’ve taken corticosteroids for several months or if you have a family history of hip fractures.
The primary prevention and treatment include calcium and vitamin D, exercise and osteoporosis medications. The most widely prescribed drugs for osteoporosis are bisphosphonates such as alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate and zoledronic acid.