Osteoporosis, literally meaning “porous bone,” is a disease that makes bones become brittle. In turn, this leads to a higher risk of breaks, and even a bump against a hard surface or a minor fall can cause a fracture (commonly to wrists, hips, and the spine). The condition is a big issue for people across the world, and in the United States it is estimated that around 54 million adults aged 50 and over are affected by either osteoporosis or low bone mass.
While keeping your bones strong and healthy is a worthwhile goal at any age, as you get older, and particularly in the years after you turn 50, it is vital that you take steps to protect yourself. Read on for the lowdown on osteoporosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoporosis
While osteoporosis is typically an asymptomatic condition until someone experiences a fracture when they fall, slip, trip, or bump into something, there are some physical changes which can signal the onset of the health problem.
For example, a change in your posture (e.g., stooping over), or a loss of height, can be indicative that your bones are becoming brittle. In particular, a curvature of the spine, or a height loss of over two inches is a sign to really pay attention to, as this indicates that your vertebrae may be affected by osteoporosis. Furthermore, if you suddenly start to experience pain in your back that is severe, and that worsens when you’re walking or standing, osteoporosis could be to blame.
Some other conditions and symptoms can also mean your risk for a bone fracture is higher, such as having high levels of alkaline phosphatase or serum calcium on a blood test, having a vitamin D deficiency, or experiencing muscle or joint aches. As well, having trouble twisting or bending down, or getting up from a chair without making use of your arms to push, can be a sign; as can having a bone mineral density result that shows a T-score of -2.5 or less.
Note though that these issues can indicate health concerns other than osteoporosis, so you need to speak with your physician to get accurate testing done and to receive a proper diagnosis.
Risk Factors and How to Ward off the Condition
There are numerous risk factors for osteoporosis. For starters, women are much more likely to develop the condition than men. As well, no matter the sex, people who take particular medications (such as immunosuppressive drugs, anticonvulsants, chemotherapy drugs, aromatase inhibitors, and some steroid hormones) can suffer from more bone loss.
Some medical conditions are also correlated more often with osteoporosis. This list includes Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease, as well as hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia nervosa, and chronic liver or kidney disease. In addition, a family history of the disease; the onset of early menopause; a history of major depression; and a history of tobacco or alcohol use, can all be factors.
If you want to ward off osteoporosis, you must be proactive about what you eat, your lifestyle, and the medications you take. You need to have a healthy diet that is low in salt, and that provides you with plenty of key nutrients which protect your bones. In particular, you should consume a lot of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium. You may need to take supplements though, particularly of vitamin D, to get enough in your body.
When it comes to lifestyle, make sure you cut back on alcohol and give up cigarettes, plus engage in regular weight-bearing and resistance exercises (to stimulate bone cell activity). Staying at a healthy weight will also help your bones. Your physician may advise you, too, to start taking certain medications (e.g., bisphosphonates, anabolic drugs, and hormone therapies). If you have a higher risk factor for osteoporosis, these are believed to add bone density and prevent bone loss.
If you find out that you have osteoporosis, particularly if the condition is advanced, you will no doubt seek out treatment options. There are a few things to consider. You can take medication to help with your pain levels and to function better on a daily basis; or you can arrange to have daily injections near your spine or in others area of brittle bones, to help you make new bone tissue.
Other options include physical therapy, and MILD – a treatment that involves using small instruments to remove any excess tissue and bone which may be pressing on the spinal nerves due to the narrowing of the spinal canal.
It is best to set up a consultation with a pain specialist at a pain diagnostic and treatment center in Pennsylvania or other location who can help put together a treatment plan for your specific needs.