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When people age, they often experience some degree of bone loss. Osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, is characterized by loss of bone mass and bone tissue that can lead to bone fragility and can increase your risk of fractures. It can also contribute to height and weight loss and possible development of a stooped position. Loss of bone mass begins around age 30. And although women are more commonly affected, men can suffer from osteoporosis too. One in four men will suffer a fracture associated with osteoporosis while evidence shows one in two women will. Women are especially susceptible particularly those past menopause (when estrogen levels are reduced), due to estrogens strong effect on the bone.
The good news is that much can be done to reduce and even prevent the loss of bone mass and fractures associated with osteoporosis. In fact, new treatments for osteoporosis are being discovered every year. The key is prevention and intervention!
Some are genetic, some are tied to medical factors and others are lifestyle-related:
- Family history – if others in your family have osteoporosis, you are likely at a greater risk
- Age – as you get older, your risk for osteoporosis increases
- Being female – women have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis
- Race – Caucasians and Asians are more likely to suffer this extensive bone loss
- Body frame – a slight/thin body frame with a low body weight for height can increase your risk
- Medication use – some medications increase the risk of osteoporosis
- Nutritional conditions such as anorexia nervosa, chronic liver disease, malabsorption syndromes and malnutrition can increase the risk
- Other medical disorders including Down’s syndrome, mastocytosis, myeloma and some cancers, rheumatologic disorders and immobilization
Lifestyle risk factors can include a low calcium intake, low vitamin D levels, high caffeine intake, tobacco use, alcohol use (7+ ounces per week) and low activity.
The difficult thing about osteoporosis is that there are no real symptoms. The first indication is often the first fracture. Many of these fractures, like a hip fracture, can greatly change a persons’ life. Unfortunately, even some of these fractures can be “silent” and go unrecognized like the vertebral compression fracture of the spine. If you suspect you are at risk of osteoporosis, you should consult your medical provider. And women over 50 should discuss their risks of developing the disease, even if they are not currently exhibiting any symptoms.
Your medical provider will perform a physical exam, including height, weight, gait (how you walk), posture and vertebral tenderness, as well as lab tests including blood and possibly urine. X-rays may be taken if significant bone mass loss or silent fractures are suspected.
Treatment Options and Prevention
There is no cure for osteoporosis but there are many effective treatments and prevention plans including:
- Drug therapies
- Exercising five days a week for at least 30 minutes (weight-bearing exercises are best, including walking)
- Appropriate calcium and vitamin D either through dietary changes or supplements