What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which there is a significant decrease in bone mass as well as structural deterioration of bone tissue, which over time can result in increased susceptibility to fractures. Since bones are the supporting framework for our bodies, protect our internal organs, and store vital nutrients and blood-producing cells, building and maintaining bone mass is essential to our overall health and general well being.
Osteoporosis risk factors
The most important years for accumulating bone mass are from pre-adolescence to the age of 30. Diet, a sedentary lifestyle or complete immobilization, specific diseases or illnesses, insufficient bone formation from youth, age, extensive or prolonged use of certain medications, excessive alcohol consumption, use of tobacco products, ethnic origin, hormones, gender (women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis) and genetics all contribute to the onset of osteoporosis.
Also, small-boned, thin women are particularly at risk, especially Caucasian and Asian females. Even if you’re male, you’re not off the hook! Over 2 million men in the U.S. are currently diagnosed with osteoporosis. Although this number seems small compared to the number of women with the disease, insufficient research may contribute to incomplete or inaccurate diagnoses and lead to under reporting of the problem among health care professionals.
Bones affected by osteoporosis can break with even slight trauma. Normal bones are somewhat porous but still dense; bones showing signs of advanced osteoporosis will appear sponge-like and be very brittle. In some extreme cases, just a bump on the arm or leg can result in a break! However, for most people, osteoporosis begins gradually and, without specific testing, can go undetected for years until the problem becomes severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. That broken wrist or ankle may be the sign of a larger problem for people at risk for the disease. That’s why it is crucial to know what osteoporosis is, what the symptoms are, how to prevent it, and if you already have osteoporosis-how to treat it.
How to diagnose osteoporosis?
There are several ways to diagnose osteoporosis. The most accurate and essentially painless way to determine whether an individual has osteoporosis is to perform a special X-ray method called densitometry. Densitometry provides measurements of bone quantity or bone mineral density (BMD). The BMD of a patient is compared with that of a young adult of the same sex with peak bone mass (often referred to as the “young adult mean”). Trend Health According to the World Health Organization, if the BMD is significantly lower-in scientific terms, 2.5 standard deviations below the young adult mean-the patient is diagnosed with osteoporosis.
At this time, there are four diagnostic categories for bone loss. Ideally, an individual’s BMD would be normal, or close to that of a young adult with peak bone mass. If there is some loss of bone mass but not enough to diagnose a patient with osteoporosis, the next category would be osteopenia or ‘low bone mass.’ Osteoporosis is the next category. The most extreme case is severe osteoporosis (established osteoporosis).
The diagnosis seems simple enough and doesn’t take very long. However, osteoporosis is often referred to as the “silent” disease; a majority of people with osteoporosis are diagnosed only after the disease has run its course for a number of years and a broken wrist, hip, rib or vertebra brings them to a doctor or hospital. Unfortunately, most X-ray technology does not detect osteoporosis until there is about 30 percent bone loss, so even a trip to the hospital for X-rays of a broken bone may not show the onset or progression of osteoporosis. If you at risk for the disease (see the list below), you may consider consulting your health care provider for osteoporosis testing options.
Osteoporosis risk factors
- Caucasian or Asian
- advanced age
- use tobacco products
- consume excessive quantities of alcohol
- sedentary or immobile
- small-boned and/or thin
- family history of osteoporosis
- long-term insufficient calcium consumption
- low testosterone (in men)
- Estrogen deficiency
- history of anorexia nervosa
- use of certain medications (e.g., corticosteroids and anticonvulsants)
- Malabsorption problems
Prevention of osteoporosis guidelines
Because there isn’t a cure for osteoporosis, prevention is critical. Fortunately, prevention is easy for most people in that it simply requires discipline. And the younger you start, the better!
A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D is a good start. Nutrition surveys suggest that many women and girls get less than 50% of the calcium needed to develop and maintain peak bone mass; depending on your age, most people need between 1000mg to 1300mg of calcium every day.
Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, so even if you’re taking calcium supplements, you will want to make sure that your diet includes enough vitamin D; the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is between 400 to 800 IU per day.
Regular weight-bearing exercise is another preventative measure. Walking, jogging, tennis, basketball, soccer, climbing stairs, and even bowling are great ways to keep your bones healthy (sorry, fishing doesn’t really count!). You can get into the habit of walking by parking your car further from the entrance of your grocery store or even enlisting a few friends to go on routine jaunts through the neighborhood or local mall.
Although research is ongoing, at this time, there is no complete cure for osteoporosis. The best way to curtail the disease is to quit smoking, quit drinking, and begin exercising regularly (not strenuously, just consistently). Incorporating a sufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D into a balanced diet is also a good way to help your bones “get into shape.”
There are also a number of recommended medications used to manage the effects of osteoporosis. FDA approved Bisphosphonates and Calcitonin are commonly prescribed to halt bone loss and increase bone strength. Hormone Replacement Therapy (administration of estrogens and progesterone) has also been recommended, but current controversy over the possible increase in the risk of certain types of cancer has led to a general reassessment of the advantages versus the potential dangers.
For most people with osteoporosis, the pain associated with osteoporosis has a major impact on their quality of life. Lower backaches caused by a deteriorating spine can be eased with ice packs and heating pads; be sure not to overheat or freeze the area (20 minutes is usually a good rule of thumb). Heating will help to relax the surrounding muscles, and cooling the area aids in reducing inflammation. Physical therapy and exercise can help immensely: regular exercise will raise endorphin levels, which will alleviate some of the pain. The combination of physical therapy and exercise can result in increased flexibility, strength, improved posture, and more energy.
Alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and acupressure are also commonly used to treat the pain that comes with osteoporosis. Massage for individuals with the disease is usually gentle; the specialist will often use oil or powder to facilitate a smoother massage. Although a stronger touch can be used to work out muscle knots, deep massage should never be administered around the spine of an individual with spinal osteoporosis.
Acupuncture, in which extremely thin, sharp needles are inserted through the skin in certain locations along what practitioners call ‘lines of energy,’ activates nerve endings and produces a release of endorphins. Multiple sessions may be needed in order to feel a noticeable difference, but since acupuncture doesn’t require medications, many people do not mind the delayed benefits. For those with osteoporosis who live alone, acupressure is an excellent option. Direct pressure with the fingertips over certain areas will help to control pain, and with a bit of training, can be self-administered.
Osteoporosis Medication Treatment
Finally, if you think that you’re at risk for osteoporosis, you may want to get an early diagnosis and consult with a health care professional. Early diagnosis can assist in taking preventative measures earlier, looking for signs of osteoporosis, and aid in treatment. Assessment of bone density with densitometry will give you an idea of whether your bones are healthy and, if they’re not, how much at risk you are for fractures. Your health care provider is the best source of information and advice for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoporosis, but educating yourself through books, articles, and online sources will help you better understand what the disease is and how it can affect you and those around you.