Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones.
The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner.
Osteoporosis can occur in people of any age, but it’s more common in older adults, especially women.
People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, and the bones in the wrists and spine.
The early stages of osteoporosis don’t cause any symptoms or warning signs. In most cases, people with osteoporosis don’t know they have the condition until they have a fracture.
If you don’t have symptoms but have a family history of osteoporosis, talking to your doctor can help you assess your risk.
Symptoms of severe osteoporosis can include a fracture from a fall or even from a strong sneeze or cough. They can also include back or neck pain, or loss of height.
Back or neck pain or loss of height can be caused by a compression fracture. This is a break in one of the vertebrae in your neck or back, which is so weak that it breaks under the normal pressure in your spine.
To check for osteoporosis, your doctor will review your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also run tests of your blood and urine to check for conditions that may cause bone loss.
If your doctor thinks you may have osteoporosis or that you’re at risk of developing it, they’ll likely suggest a bone density test.
This test is called bone densitometry, or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). It uses X-rays to measure the density of the bones in your wrists, hips, or spine. These are the three areas most at risk of osteoporosis. This painless test can take from 10 to 30 minutes.
If your testing shows that you have osteoporosis, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan. Your doctor will likely prescribe medications as well as lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can include increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin D, as well as getting appropriate exercise.
There’s no cure for osteoporosis, but proper treatment can help protect and strengthen your bones. These treatments can help slow the breakdown of bone in your body, and some treatments can spur the growth of new bone.
The most common drugs used to treat osteoporosis are called bisphosphonates. Bisphosphonates are used to prevent the loss of bone mass. They may be taken orally or by injection. They include:
Other medications may be used to prevent bone loss or stimulate bone growth. They include:
In men, testosterone therapy may help increase bone density.
For women, estrogen used during and after menopause can help stop bone density loss. Unfortunately, estrogen therapy has also been associated with increased risk of blood clots, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
This medication has been found to provide the benefits of estrogen without many of the risks, although there is still an increased risk of blood clots.
This drug is taken by injection and may prove even more promising than bisphosphonates at reducing bone loss.
This drug is also taken by injection and stimulates bone growth.
In addition to your treatment plan, an appropriate diet can help strengthen your bones.
To keep your bones healthy, you need to include certain nutrients in your daily diet. The most important ones are calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs calcium to maintain strong bones, and it needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
Other nutrients that promote bone health include protein, magnesium, vitamin K and zinc.
Eating right isn’t the only thing you can do to support the health of your bones. Exercise is very important as well, especially weight-bearing exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises are performed with either your feet or your arms fixed to the ground or another surface. Examples include:
These exercises help because they cause your muscles to push and pull against your bones. This action tells your body to form new bone tissue, which strengthens your bones.
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot control. These include being female, getting older, and having a family history of osteoporosis. There are some factors, however, that do fall within your control.
If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the best way to prevent it.