Osteoporosis Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Loss of bone tissue and density occurs frequently in older people of both sexes, and it hits women earlier in life. Here’s what you need to know about bone health.

WHAT IS OSTEOPOROSIS?

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the United States. It causes all of your bones to become weak and fragile. Fragile bones are more likely to break. In fact, osteoporosis will cause about half of all women over age 50 to suffer a broken bone during their lifetime. Of these fractures, the most serious ones affect the hip, wrist and backbone (vertebrae).

WHAT CAUSES OSTEOPOROSIS?

Osteoporosis often is thought of as a ‘woman’s disease,’ but it affects men, too. In both cases, a natural drop in hormone levels at mid-life is the culprit. As women’s estrogen production (and men’s testosterone production) declines in middle age and later, bone loss can occur because the sex hormones contribute to bone-building. As your body slows production of these essential hormones, your bones can become brittle. Beyond the hormone connection, osteoporosis can be caused — or worsened — by a variety of other conditions and lifestyle choices, including:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Long-term use of glucocorticoid medications like prednisone
  • Long-term use of antiseizure medications
  • Hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid gland)
  • Hyperparathyroidism (over-active parathyroid glands)
  • Kidney disease
  • Smoking
  • Immobility (for example, being confined to a bed for long periods of time)
  • Low body weight

Researchers aren’t sure of all the exact causes or contributing factors of osteoporosis. They continue to investigate this disease.

SYMPTOMS OF OSTEOPOROSIS

You may have osteoporosis and not even know it. For many people, the first ‘symptom’ of osteoporosis is a broken bone. For this reason, you should talk to your healthcare provider about bone density screenings that can help you determine if your bones are becoming fragile.

The DEXA scan is the main tool for assessing bone density. This non-invasive test uses low-dose X-rays to check the mineralization of your bones. After the test, your healthcare provider will give you a report that tells you if you’re experiencing bone loss or not and how severe the bone loss is.

OSTEOPOROSIS PREVENTION

Because osteoporosis is so widespread and so hard to avoid, you should focus your efforts on preventing fractures and nourishing your bones. Remember, your bones are living tissue just like your muscles or a vital organ. Take these steps to help ensure bone health and avoid fractures:

  • Eat well. Key nutrients for bone health include calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K. (If you take blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, check with your doctor before consuming Vitamin K.) You should eat an adequate number of calories each day to maintain a healthy weight. For calcium and Vitamin D, consume plenty of dark-green leafy vegetables, canned sardines with the bones, soy products, calcium-fortified products like orange juice, fatty fish like salmon and products fortified with Vitamin D, such as cereal. It’s very hard to get enough Vitamin D from food, so you might consider taking a supplement. Do not exceed the label amount.
  • Exercise. Believe it or not, pounding your bones is good for them. Walking, jogging, running, lifting leg weights and other exercises that stress your bones stimulates them to manufacture new cells for increased density.
  • Balance exercises. Work on your balance to avoid falling. You can easily accomplish this in everyday life. Several times a day, lift one foot slightly off the floor, hold your balance on the opposite foot for a count of 10, then switch to the other foot. Lift the foot only slightly so you can quickly put it back down if you lose your balance. Standing in line at the grocery store presents an excellent opportunity to do balance exercises because you can grab onto the cart’s handle if you wobble. Be careful not to fall!
  • Get your eyes checked. Vision problems or the wrong eyeglass prescription can cause you to lose your balance.
  • Get your ears checked. Fluid in the ears, displaced otoliths (‘ear stones’) and ear infections all can cause a loss of balance.
  • Pick up throw rugs! Possibly the number-one trip hazard in any home, decorative scatter rugs should be removed.
  • Keep floors clutter-free. Make sure your home’s walkways are free from objects you might trip over.
  • Wear shoes with a stable sole and good grip.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom.
  • Use a non-skid bath mat.
  • Make sure your home is well-lit. Poor lighting can obscure trip hazards from your view.
  • If you have balance problems, use a cane or walker.
  • Avoid climbing on step-stools or ladders, especially if you live alone.

OSTEOPOROSIS: INCURABLE BUT MANAGEABLE

It may be impossible to prevent some level of bone loss, but you can manage your osteoporosis by eating a healthy diet and exercising. If you do that and also focus on fall prevention, you may dodge a dreadful broken hip and live a fracture-free life.

Image Credit : Dr C. Le Caignec via Creative Commons