Osteoporosis is a bone disease. Its name comes from the
Latin for “porous bones.” The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a
honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, such that the bone
loses strength and density. At the same time, the outside of the bone grows
weaker and thinner.
People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of experiencing fractures
while engaged in routine activities like standing or walking. About 53
million people either have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing
it. The most commonly affected bones are the wrists, hips, spine, and ribs.
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.
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’s able to replace it.
Menopause can cause a woman’s body to lose bone even more
quickly. Men continue to lose bone during this time, but at a slower rate. Between
the ages of 65 and 70, women and men are usually losing bone at the same
Other risk factors include:
- being female
- being an older adult
- being Caucasian or Asian
- family history/genetics
- poor nutrition
- physical inactivity
- taking certain medications
- low body weight
- small-boned frame
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a painless bone density scan
called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). It’s used to measure the
density of the wrist, hips, and spine. These are the three areas most likely to
A doctor may choose to run a DXA on people who are at high
risk for developing osteoporosis. The doctor may also order a DXA to see if a
fracture was caused by osteoporosis.
How is osteoporosis treated?
The most common drugs used to treat osteoporosis are called
bisphosphonates. They include alendronate
(Boniva), and zoledronic acid (Reclast). Bisphosphonates are used to prevent
the loss of bone mass. They may be taken orally or by injection.
The following treatments are also available:
In men, testosterone therapy may help increase bone density.
For women, estrogen used during and after menopause can help stop bone density
loss. Unfortunately, estrogen therapy has also 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 (Xgeva or Prolia), which is taken by
injection and may prove even more promising than bisphosphonates at
reducing bone loss
- teriparatide (Forteo), which is also taken by injection
and stimulates bone growth
- calcitonin salmon, which is taken as a nasal spray and
reduces bone reabsorption, but needs to be used with caution because of
its relationship to cancer
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 you avoid fractures. Pain management
and an appropriate plan for rehabilitation can ease the impact of fractures.
is osteoporosis prevented?
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot
control. These include sex, being older, and having a family history of
osteoporosis. There are some factors, however, that do fall within your
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 lifting weights
- stopping cigarette use
- for women, weighing the pros and cons of hormone