Osteoporosis occurs when there is an imbalance in the body’s normal process of bone development. Normally, bone is constantly breaking down and rebuilding, but when the breakdown of bone occurs faster than the rebuilding, bones can become weak and brittle. This can increase a person’s risk for osteoporosis, and in turn, a risk for bone fractures. Researchers estimate that about one in five American women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis. It is particularly common in post-menopausal women. Hip, vertebral, and other bone fractures (broken bones) can occur because of osteoporosis.
Calcium and phosphate are essential for normal bone formation. As the body ages, these minerals may be reabsorbed back into the body from the bones, which makes the bone tissue weaker. This can result in brittle, fragile bones that are more prone to fractures with or without injury.
Bone loss typically occurs gradually over time. Quite often, people will only become aware of osteoporosis after they have suffered a bone fracture. By the time a fracture occurs, the disease may be in its advanced stages.
Causes of osteoporosis include:
- Post-menopausal state (and possibly low testosterone in men)
- Being confined to a bed (or prolonged immobility)
- Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease and eating disorders
- Taking corticosteroid medications (such as prednisone or methylprednisolone) every day for more than 3 months, or taking some anti-seizure medications
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
There are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. Symptoms occurring late in the disease include
- Fractures with little or no trauma
- Loss of height (as much as 6 inches) over time
- Low back pain due to fractures of the vertebrae
- Neck pain due to fractures of the vertebrae
- Stooped posture or kyphosis, also called a "dowager's hump
Treatment for Osteoporosis
- After evaluating bone density and concluding there is a risk of osteoporosis, it is important to begin treatment as outlined below:
- Thorough medical evaluation, including health history
- Fall risk assessment
- Laboratory evaluation
- Testing such as a DEXA scan
- Lifestyle modification and limiting or eliminating tobacco use, alcohol and caffeine intake
- Nutrition and dietary supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D
- Physical activity, including weight-bearing exercise
- Fall prevention and home safety
Goals of PMC's Osteoporosis Program
- Increase awareness about osteoporosis
- Provide education on the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis
- Prevent future fractures in individuals who have sustained fragility fractures
- Physician referrals for diagnosis and treatment
- Physical and Occupational therapy
- Nutrition counseling
- Pain Management
- Pre-operative education and testing for patients who have sustained a fragility fracture
- Educational lectures for community members covering a range of topics that include osteoporosis, prevention of falls, exercise, and nutrition.
- Resources and educational material on osteoporosis and related topics
You can discuss your osteoporosis concerns with a knowledgeable professional of PMC's Osteoporosis Program and start developing a prevention plan for yourself and your family.