Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and are more likely to break. It occurs when bones lose an excessive amount of their protein and mineral content, particularly calcium. Over time, bone mass, and therefore bone strength, is decreased. As a result, bones become fragile and break easily. Even a sneeze or a sudden movement may be enough to break a bone in someone with severe osteoporosis. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist.
Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person's ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
A number of factors increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. They include:
- Age : Osteoporosis is more likely as people grow older and their bones lose tissue.
- Gender : Women are more likely to have osteoporosis because they are smaller and so start out with less bone. They also lose bone tissue more rapidly as they age. While women commonly lose 30-50% of their bone mass over their lifetimes, men lose only 20-33% of theirs.
- Figure type : Women with small bones and those who are thin are more liable to have osteoporosis.
- Early menopause : Women who stop menstruating early because of heredity, may lose large amounts of bone tissue early in life. Conditions such as anorexia and bulimia may also lead to early menopause and osteoporosis.
- Lifestyle : People who smoke or drink too much, or don't get enough exercise have an increased chance of getting osteoporosis.
- Diet : Those who don't get enough calcium or protein may be more likely to have osteoporosis. That's why people who constantly diet are more prone to the disease.
Osteoporosis is usually asymptomatic except when it causes a fracture. In general, acute compression fracture of a spinal vertebral body will cause sudden onset of pain localized to the area of the fracture. There may be some local radiation of the pain. It is possible for compression fractures to be discovered incidentally. In these cases, it is possible that multiple small fractures resulted in a larger fracture without severe pain. Rarely, the fracture may cause pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots with loss of neurological function.
Calcium is essential for building and maintaining healthy bone. Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium, is also essential. To get these and other important nutrients throughout life, make sure to keep an overall healthy, well-balanced diet.
To help prevent osteoporosis, don't smoke, and avoid drinking excess alcohol.
Regular exercise can prevent bone fractures. Exercises where muscles pull on bones cause the bones to retain, and possibly gain, density.
A number of new medications for the prevention of osteoporosis, including Raloxifene and alendronate, are currently available and FDA approved.
If you are a candidate for hormone replacement therapy, discuss the risks and benefits thoroughly with your health care provider.