Osteoporosis is a bone disease, the name of which means “porous
bones” in Latin. The inside of a normal bone has small spaces, like a
honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces so that the bones
lose strength and density. At the same time, the outside of the bone also grows
weaker and thinner.
People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of suffering
fractures while engaged in routine activities like standing or walking.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 40 million
people either have osteoporosis or low bone mass (NIH).
What Causes Osteoporosis?
The biggest risk factor for osteoporosis is age. As people
grow older, the body goes through the process of breaking down old bone and
growing new bone in its place. Around the age of 30, however, the body starts
losing bone faster than it is able to replace it. In women, going through
menopause can cause the body to lose bone even more quickly for a period of
time. Men continue to lose bone during this time, but at a slower rate. By the
age of 65 to 70, women and men are usually losing bone at the same rate.
Other risk factors include
- being female
- being older
- being Caucasian or Asian
- family history/genetics
- poor nutrition
- physical inactivity
- taking certain medications
- low body weight and/or small-boned frame
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
There are no symptoms or warning signs of the early stages
of osteoporosis. In most cases, people with osteoporosis are unaware that they
have the condition until they experience a fracture.
Some spinal fractures may occur without initial pain. In
these cases, the chief symptoms that a fracture has occurred may be loss of
height or a bent spine.
How Is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
According to the Mayo Clinic, osteoporosis is diagnosed with
a painless bone density scan called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).
It is used to measure the density of the wrist, the hips, and the spine. These
are the three areas most likely to experience osteoporosis (Mayo
A doctor may choose to run a DXA on patients who are at high
risk for developing osteoporosis. The doctor may also order a DXA to see if
osteoporosis played a part in a fracture.
How Is Osteoporosis Treated?
The most common drugs used to treat osteoporosis are called
bisphosphonates such as Fosamax, Boniva, and Reclast. Bisphosphonates are used
to prevent the loss of bone mass. They may be taken orally or by injection.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following treatments are
- In men, testosterone
therapy may help increase bone density.
- For women, estrogen used during and after menopause can
help stop bone density loss. Estrogen therapy has also, unfortunately,
been associated with increased risk of blood clots, heart disease and
certain types of cancer.
- One alternative medication, raloxifene (Evista), has
been found to provide the benefits of estrogen without many of the risks,
although there is still an increased risk of blood clots.
Other medications sometimes used in the treatment of
- denosumab, which is taken by injection, may prove even
more promising than bisphosphonates at reducing bone loss
- teriparatide, which is also taken by injection and
stimulates bone growth
- calcitonin, which is taken as a nasal spray and reduces
bone reabsorption (Mayo
What Are the Complications of Osteoporosis?
The chief complications of osteoporosis are fractures and
the pain and disability that accompany them. Medication and lifestyle changes
such as fall prevention measures can help avoid fractures, however. Pain
management and an appropriate plan for rehabilitation can ease their impact.
How Is Osteoporosis Prevented?
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot
control. These include gender, being older, and having a family history of
osteoporosis. There are some factors, however, that do fall within your
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center
(UMMC), some of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis include
- getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D
- engaging in weight-bearing exercises such as walking or
- stopping cigarette use
- limiting caffeine to three cups of coffee per day or
- for women, weighing the pros and cons of hormone