When we think of osteoporosis, we might think of an elderly lady with a hunched back. But you can be outwardly healthy and still be at risk for osteoporosis. Our bones weaken gradually, but we may not realize it until we experience a fracture. That’s why the medical community calls osteoporosis the “silent thief.”
What Is Osteoporosis?
Our healthy bones are full of small holes. But when those bones don’t get the nutrients they need, the holes become too big, and bones become dangerously fragile. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that happens when your body loses bone, causing reduced bone density. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass. Studies suggest that roughly half of all women and up to one in four men aged 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. With osteoporosis, a bone can break without the normal trauma that typically causes an injury.
Why Should I Be Concerned About Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis makes bone breaks more likely, especially in the hip, spine and wrist. According to NOF, 20 percent of seniors who break a hip die within one year, either from complications from the break or from surgery to repair it. Many of these patients also require long-term nursing care. Osteoporosis can also affect the vertebrae, leading to a stooped or hunched posture and height loss. NOF also points out that osteoporosis can limit mobility, leading to feelings of isolation and depression in seniors.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis has a range of causes, with nutrition and hormone levels front and center.
- Hormone levels: low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men play a significant role in osteoporosis. Both of these hormones decrease as we age, so older adults are at increased risk.
- Dietary factors including calcium deficiency: your body needs calcium to rebuild bone, and a healthy diet rich in calcium can help prevent osteoporosis.
- Long-term use of oral or injected steroid medications affects how your body uses calcium and vitamin D and can reduce bone mass.
- Lifestyle choices including lack of exercise, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol use can contribute to osteoporosis.
- Risk factors including sex, age, race, and genetic predisposition all come into play.
What Are Risk Factors For Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men, and white and Asian women are at the highest risk. Age is also a factor, with older adults experiencing most cases. Here’s a look at other risk factors that may come into play:
- According to the Mayo Clinic, men and women with small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they have less bone mass to draw from as they age.
- Since nutrition affects bone health, weight loss, eating disorders, and poor nutrition increase osteoporosis risk.
- Many medications, including corticosteroids, contribute to low bone mass.
According to NOF, a range of health conditions increase the likelihood of osteoporosis:
- Autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
- Digestive and gastrointestinal disorders, including celiac disease, irritable bowel disease, and weight loss surgery.
- Some cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
- Blood disorders including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and sickle cell disease.
- Endocrine and hormonal conditions including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and premature menopause.
- Neurological conditions including stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, and spinal cord injuries.
- Liver and kidney disorders
- Mental illness can impact nutrition and create higher osteoporosis risk.
Diagnosis and Early Warning Signs of Osteoporosis
Most of us don’t realize it, but we start losing bone mass as early as our 30s. According to NOF, up to 34 million people have low bone mass, called osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. However, many patients don’t get diagnosed with osteoporosis until they break a bone. Patients may notice they’re getting shorter or their back is bending forward.
Back pain from a cracked vertebra is another warning sign. If you have concerns or a family history of osteoporosis, ask your orthopaedist about a DEXA scan, a test for bone density. This is an easy, painless scan.
How Can I Prevent Osteoporosis?
Taking proactive steps as you get older can prevent osteoporosis from becoming a problem.
- Exercise: Combine strength training exercises with weight-bearing activities like walking or running to build bone strength. Increased flexibility and balance exercises like yoga and tai chi can help prevent falls.
- Nutrition: Make sure your diet includes plenty of calcium and Vitamin D, and supplement if needed.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Talk with your doctor about medications you’re taking for other conditions and how they impact bone health.
What Are The Best Treatments for Osteoporosis?
If your bone density is low but you’re low-risk for a fracture, you can start with non-medical approaches, including diet, exercise, and supplements. If you’re at increased risk for a fracture, your provider may recommend medication. Some of the most common include:
- Bisphosphonates are the most common medications prescribed for osteoporosis. These drugs bind to the bones and slow down bone erosion to renew and rebuild bone cells.
- Providers may prescribe hormone therapy for postmenopausal women. Estrogen therapy can help boost bone density, but it has other health risks, including links to blood clots and breast cancer. It’s important to discuss family and personal health history and risk factors before making a decision.
- New high-tech bone-building medications are available for patients for whom other treatments don’t work. Your orthopaedist offers these treatments by injection or infusion.
Osteoporosis and Your Orthopaedist
Your orthopaedist’s goal is to help you focus on bone health before a fracture makes treatment urgent. We can focus on prevention through nutrition, supplements, exercise, and lifestyle changes. And, we can test for bone density. If you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis, we will work together to take appropriate steps. At Countryside Orthopaedics, we work with patients to prevent and treat osteoporosis before and after an injury. If you break a bone, we can help with healing using the appropriate treatment and physical therapy. It’s never too late to start taking steps to guard against osteoporosis and avoid injury. Don’t let the silent thief rob you of activity and productivity.