More than 200 million people are suffering from osteoporosis. The disease has swept across the world and taken over the lives of all of these people.
But, why is osteoporosis so common and how can you prevent yourself from becoming the next individual with a diagnosis? What causes osteoporosis and what risk factors should you know about?
We’ll answer all of these questions and more. Just keep reading.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. In short, osteoporosis happens when your bone cells are breaking down faster than your body can make new ones. This causes a porous appearance to your bones, filling the spaces with air pockets.
The creation of these air pockets causes thinning and weakness in your bones, making it easy to break them.
In particular, osteoporosis is common in the bones that are present in the hips, spine, and wrists. These fragile placements make the idea of fractures even more intense.
The breakdown of your bone cells happens gradually over time. This makes it more difficult to diagnose the issue. In fact, many people do not receive a diagnosis quickly at all.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
There hasn’t been a lot of answers as far as the causation of osteoporosis goes. However, we do know how osteoporosis develops throughout a person’s life.
First of all, we must clarify that your body is constantly producing new bone cells. Just like everywhere else in your body, your bones are made of cells that are constantly replenishing.
At the same time, old bone cells are dying. The process of your body replacing these old bone cells with new ones is known as ‘remodeling.’
As you grow, your body makes more cells than are dying off. This allows your bones to grow larger as you grow in size. This peaks at around 30 to 35 years old.
From there, the bone remodeling process changes. In turn, your body is going to create new bone cells at a slower rate. Over time, this causes you to have fewer bone cells than you did before.
When this loss is severe, you have osteoporosis.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
There isn’t a definitive list of symptoms for osteoporosis. Instead, there are a few signs that you may notice over the years.
Again, the changes that come with osteoporosis are gradual. This means that you aren’t going to notice changes over night. Instead, it may take you a few months or even years to notice when something major has changed with your body.
Some of the most common signs include the following:
- Loss of height
- Back pain
- Posture is slumped over
- Fractured bone (typically in the hip or spine)
That last sign is one of the most common leads for diagnosis. Sometimes, patients with osteoporosis can get fractures from doing simple, everyday tasks. Things like sitting, standing, and coughing may cause someone with osteoporosis to break a bone.
The worst part is that you’re likely to have more and more fractures with each one you have. Once you have your first, the second isn’t far after.
For most patients, the pain that comes with having a fracture goes away once that fracture is healed. However, some patients with osteoporosis have long-standing pain that stays even after the bone is healed.
Those who have long-standing pain complain of stiffness in the area that was fractured. With this stiffness comes difficulty moving. Therefore, these patients have trouble being as active as they should be.
What Are the Risk Factors of Osteoporosis?
There are plenty of risk factors that you need to keep in mind when it comes to osteoporosis. Unfortunately, there are many things that could affect your ability to develop the condition.
You’re more likely to develop osteoporosis if the following apply:
- You have a family history of osteoporosis, especially if one of your parents was prone to fractures
- You are a woman because women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis
- You are over the age of 50 years old because you’re at a higher risk with the older you are
- You are petite and/or thin, especially if you lose a significant amount of weight after the age of 50 years old
- You have a history of fractures in the past
- You are a current or former smoker as this has been shown to lower estrogen
- You are on a medication that may cause osteoporosis like steroids, thyroid medication, anti-seizure medication, and antacids
The more of these risk factors you have, the more likely that you are to develop osteoporosis. Make sure to stay in contact with your doctor about the signs and symptoms that you may be noticing over time.
Osteoporosis and Menopause
You might have noticed that we discussed the relevance of estrogen in the risk factors associated with osteoporosis. This is because estrogen is an important hormone that contributes to the development of your bones.
When a woman enters menopause, their estrogen levels drop. In turn, the woman’s bone development pattern is interrupted and changed.
Her body slows down the creation of new bone cells while speeding up the disposal of old bone cells. This continues for ten years following the onset of menopause.
After this period of time, a woman’s body goes back to the old way of disposing of bone cells. However, the rate at which the woman’s body makes new bone never goes back to normal.
Taking all of this into account, the overall bone mass of the woman lessens. Thus, she has a greater chance of having a fracture.
Even if a woman incurs early menopause, this raises her chances for osteoporosis and fractures. In fact, any long period of time when hormone levels are low or completely absent can cause an increased susceptibility.
How Do I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?
The best way to determine if you have osteoporosis is by talking to a facility for family medicine near you. The medical professionals there can help you find out if you have osteoporosis.
As you’re exploring the risk factors of the disease and how they affect you you might want to have a conversation with your doctor. Letting them know about your risk for the condition up-front is the best way to protect yourself in the long run.
By exploring the possibility of the condition with a doctor, you’re placing the condition on their radar. Therefore, they’ll be more likely to pay attention to a potential diagnosis in the future.
Once your physician thinks that it’s time to test you, they’ll likely give you a bone density test. This involves a scan that uses a very low amount of radiation to see how dense your bones are. This scan can give a definitive diagnosis for osteoporosis.
What Are the Treatments for Osteoporosis?
There are plenty of options for treating osteoporosis. These focus mainly on stopping bone loss and lowering your chance for fractures.
Here are a few of the most popular lifestyle changes that physicians recommend for patients with osteoporosis:
- Quitting smoking
- Adding more calcium to your diet
- Adding more vitamin D to your diet
- Getting more exercise
However, lifestyle changes aren’t enough for those with a serious condition. These individuals need medications to slow bone loss or build more new bone. Here are some examples of medications for those with osteoporosis:
- Bisphosphonates, like alendronate (Binosto and Fosamax), zoledronic acid (Reclast and Zometa), risedronate (Actonel and Atlvia), and ibandronate (Boniva)
- Calcitonin (Fortical and Miacalcin)
- Raloxifene (Evista)
- Teriparatide (Forteo)
- Parathyroid hormone
- Denosumab (Prolia)
If you think that your condition is serious enough for medications, you should have a conversation with your doctor about what medication is right for you. Depending on your condition and past medical history, there may be a better option for you than is listed.
When in doubt, talk to your doctor about your care. Your care should be personalized to you and your condition.
What Can I Do to Prevent Osteoporosis Now?
If you’re looking to get ahead of the game and work on preventing the disease, there are plenty of options. Consider the following list when you’re thinking of things to add to your daily schedule:
- Exercise regularly to make your bones and muscles stronger
- Incorporate new kinds of exercises that build your bones in different ways
- Add calcium to your diet by including milk, dairy, canned fish, and green vegetables
- Take calcium supplements
- Add vitamin D to your diet through foods like eggs and fatty fish
- Take vitamin D supplements
Where Can I Learn More?
Understanding osteoporosis and how it can affect your bone mass is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you feel that you’re at risk for having porous bones and getting bone fractures, you should talk to your doctor.
The better you communicate with your doctor, the better your care will be. When in doubt, let your doctor know what’s going on. They can help you find out what’s going on.
If you’re looking for more health-focused information like this, we suggest you check out the rest of the blog.