Healthy Living

What You Need to Know About Osteoporosis

What You Need to Know About Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a medical condition that if diagnosed on time could be preventable and successfully treatable. In literal terms, osteoporosis means ‘bones with holes’. It is often called “the silent thief” because bone loss occurs without symptoms.

But what is osteoporosis? According to WHO (World Health Organization), osteoporosis is a generalized skeletal disorder in which a person suffers from low bone mass and deterioration of the bones. As bone architecture deteriorates, the bones become very fragile and eventually become prone to fractures.

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Normally bones are constantly regenerating, which means that new and healthy bone is produced as old bone breaks down. When bone grows older, new bone is developing simultaneously. If for any reason this process is not balanced, the bones will lose their normal density. If bone is deteriorating more than it is rejuvenating, the bone mass will decrease. Thus, the bones will lose their density, which will make them more fragile and vulnerable, eventually even fracturing due to a minor trauma or no trauma at all. Individuals may not know they have osteoporosis until their bones are so weak that a minor incident like a small fall or bump causes a fracture. Adverse lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive drinking or unhealthy diet from as early as the teenage years may influence peak bone mass.

As children develop, the body is in high production mode of bone. When we're young and our bodies are building bone, there is not much bone being broken down so our bones can grow. Most people reach the peak of their bone mass by the age of 20. Normally as we grow older more bone is lost than new bone is created.

There are two types of osteoporosis:

  • Postmenopausal osteoporosis – also known as the type I osteoporosis. It affects women after menopause due to low levels of estrogen, which increases the bone resorption. This type of osteoporosis affects more women than men, usually between 50 and 70 years old.
  • Senile osteoporosis – also known as the type II osteoporosis. It usually occurs after the age of 70, affecting more women than men.

Some conditions put people at a higher chance for developing osteoporosis. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Age – The risk for osteoporosis increases as you get older.
  • Sex – Women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis than men.
  • Race – Asians and whites are more susceptible to osteoporosis than people of other races.
  • Family history – If you have someone in the family that has had problems with osteoporosis, it is more likely that you develop it yourself.
  • Body frame size – Smaller body frames tend to develop osteoporosis more frequently.
  • Eating disorders – People with eating disorders have a higher chance of developing the disease due to a low intake of nutrients necessary for healthy bones and a good overall health.
  • Low calcium intake – Calcium is key to healthy bones. Not intaking enough calcium can contribute to a lower bone density, early bone loss as well as bone fractures.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption – Too much alcohol can lead to a number of illnesses including osteoporosis. 
  • Cigarette smoking – Like alcohol, smoking cigarettes can result in health issues including osteoporosis.  

Apart from the risk factors above, there are some existing health conditions that make someone more likely to develop osteoporosis. They are:

Signs and symptoms of osteoporosis

In the early stages of osteoporosis, there are usually no signs and symptoms. But, once the bones are weakened enough signs and symptoms appear. Characteristic signs and symptoms of osteoporosis include:

  • Loss of height over the time
  • A stooped posture
  • Back pain
  • Bone fractures

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a measuring of the bone density. Bone density exam is painless and usually the bones of the hip, wrist and spine are measured.

How is osteoporosis treated?

If the bone density exam shows only a low level of bone loss, no treatment might be necessary. With the help of the bone density exam, your doctor will determine the risk and possibility for fractures after a 10 years period. In these cases, when the risk is low a lifestyle change might be enough, together with a modification of risk factors for bone loss.

If there is an increased risk for bone fractures, medication is necessary. Bisphosphonates are usually prescribed for both men and women.

Hormone therapy in women immediately after menopause can help maintain a normal bone density, preventing the progression of osteoporosis and the possibility of bone fractures.

Prevention of osteoporosis

Enlisted below are steps both men and women can take from a young age to prevent osteoporosis:

  • Have a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Ensure adequate intake of calcium by eating calcium-rich foods. This is a vital step to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. If there is not enough calcium in the blood, your body will take calcium from your bones. Making sure you have enough calcium in your diet is an important way to preserve your bone density.
  • Ensure you have adequate levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our body to absorb calcium. We get most of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight.  If you are concerned that you are not getting enough vitamin D talk with your health professional.
  • Lifestyle Changes – General lifestyle changes recommended to protect against osteoporosis are to :
    • Stop smoking- Smoking tends to decrease bone density
    • Drink alcohol in moderation – consuming an excess of alcohol increases the risk of osteoporosis. Limit the consumption of alcohol to two standard drinks per day and have alcohol free days during the week.
    • Consume less caffeinated drinks – Excessive caffeine in our body affect the amount of calcium our body absorbs.  Consume fewer than two to three glasses /cups of cola, tea or coffee a day.

Do regular weight-bearing and strength-training activities as it encourages bone density and improves balance thereby preventing falls. Consult with your doctor before embarking on any exercise regime especially if you have been leading a sedentary life and are over 75 years of age.