What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is an age-related disease in which bone demineralization results in decreased bone density and fractures. If left untreated, osteoporosis will progress without pain until there is a bone breakage. These types of broken bones, also called fractures, generally occur in the wrist, spine and hip. The hip and spine regions are usually affected the worse, but any bone can be affected. Hip fractures usually require major surgery and hospitalization. These can impact the sufferer's ability to walk unassisted and could cause permanent or prolonged disability, or at the worst, death. Vertebral or spine fractures carry heavy consequences such as deformity, severe back pain and loss of height.

Causes of Osteoporosis

Many factors cause osteoporosis. These include:

  • Decrease in estrogen at menopause
  • Genetic component
  • Family History of the disease
  • Diets low in calcium
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Cigarette smoking
It is possible for osteoporosis to start as early as adolescence. It is important for teenagers to get enough calcium in their diet to build strong bone structure. The disease is more common among women, as women start to lose bone at around age 35. The rate of bone loss increases tremendously 5-10 years after menopause. Over those years, bone loss occurs at a higher pace, leading to osteoporosis. Bone loss can be detected through a bone density test. Osteoporosis occurs in men, as well. Records show that over 1.5 million men over the age of 65 suffer from osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is becoming increasingly common amongst the aging Baby Boomer generation. In fact, over 55% of individuals age 50 years and older are at risk for developing the disease. Over ten million women and men currently suffer from the disease. Over 34 million are said to have low bone mass, increasing their risk of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis Symptoms

The causes of osteoporosis include frequent fractures, especially in the vertebrae, wrist or hip areas. The actual diseases can be present for years without detection until several painful fractures occur. Kyphosis, an exaggerated outward curvature of the thoracic area of the dorsal spine can result in a rounded upper back. This can cause severe back pain and a decrease in height of up to 2-3 inches.

Osteoporosis Treatment

Diagnosis is made by history, symptoms, physical examination, radiography, bone scan, and bone biopsy. Treatment can include calcium or estrogen replacement and moderate exercise. Osteoporosis medications include Calcitonin (Calcimar and Miacalcin). This is a hormone that was approved by the FDA to treat osteoporosis. This drug can be given as a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection, or nasal inhaler. It has been proven to prevent bone loss in women who already have the disease, and this drug has been proven to increase bone density and strengthen the spine.

Menopausal hormone therapy and selective estrogen modulators , such as Raloxifene, is helpful in reducing the effects of osteoporosis. Raloxifene is helpful in treating postmenopausal women. Side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness and leg cramps. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex), is also a helpful drug for postmenopausal women.

Another helpful non-drug approach to treating osteoporosis is the use of daily moderate exercise for bone building. Types of bone building exercises include:

  • Weight bearing (walking, hiking, dancing)
  • Resistance (free weights, resistance tubing)
  • Flexibility(yoga, stretching)

Osteoporosis Postmenopause

Certain lifestyle changes will have to be maintained for postmenopausal women suffering with osteoporosis. Adults age 50 and older should take 1,200 mg of calcium and up to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily. A calcium-rich diet will have to be upheld. Good food sources of calcium include: milk, yogurt, and other dairy products. Also, dark green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified orange juice. Good food sources of vitamin D include: fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna; liver and egg yolks. Fracture and fall prevention can be upheld by walking very slowly, checking vision annually, and avoiding tranquilizers and sleeping pills.

With modern treatment, sufferers with this disease can lead painless, normal lives.

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