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Osteoporosis, the weakening of bone tissue over time that increases the risk of fracture, is the most common type of bone disease.
Our bones are like any other body tissue. The body absorbs old cells as they die and continually makes new cells, and this keeps our bones healthy. As you grow through childhood and adolescence, you add bone faster than it is removed. Your bones grow heavier and denser. After your late 20s, you begin to lose bone mass faster than it is replaced.
Because a hormonal imbalance can speed bone loss, osteoporosis is treated by an endocrinologist. However, the effects of it such as kyphosis (hunchback) or compression fracture may be treated by an orthopedic doctor.
At University of Maryland our endocrinologists at the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE) work together with UM Orthopaedics at diagnosing and treating osteoporosis. To make an appointment with one of our endocrinologists call 443-682-6800.
Effects of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis mainly affects women who lose the most bone in the first years after menopause. The loss continues through the postmenopausal years and may cause loss of height and weight. A severely rounded upper back, called a dowager’s hump, can also develop.
The loss of bone mass thins and weakens our bones, especially those in the hip, spine and wrist, making them easier to break. Healthy bone has a tight honeycomb structure. With osteoporosis, your bones look like Swiss cheese.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
There are some risk factors you can’t change and some you can. You can’t change your age, sex, family history or ethnicity (white and Asian women have most risk.)
Risk factors you can control include:
- Hormone levels – less estrogen in women and testosterone in men can reduce bone mass
- Calcium and vitamin D levels – too little in your diet increases your risk
- Medications – some corticosteroids and anticonvulsants reduce bone density
- Tobacco use – is bad for bones and your heart and lungs
- Alcohol use – increases risk of bone loss and fractures
Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because the first symptom may be a broken bone. Bone loss is cumulative. Whether or not you have osteoporosis, start thinking about your bone density now and take steps to maintain bone health. A healthy lifestyle that combines diet and exercise is crucial.
Make sure you get plenty of calcium in your diet for bone quality, with vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. If you don’t eat dairy foods, calcium supplements can help. Avoid excess alcohol use and smoking.
The right kind of exercise is also important. Walking and jogging are great for heart health and maintaining a healthy weight. But you need resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, to improve bone density. Wearing wrist and ankle weights is a good way to combine the two.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about bone health and whether you should have a bone mineral density test. If you have low bone mass, ask what medications might help keep your bones strong.
Lost bone can’t be replaced. Osteoporosis treatment focuses on stopping or slowing further bone loss. Regular exercise and nutrition are key. You may see one of our registered dietitians to help you maintain a healthy diet.
Other treatments may include estrogen replacement therapy for women, calcitonin to decrease bone loss, and bisphosphonates to increase bone mass and reduce your risk for fractures.