What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common skeletal condition that causes reduced bone mass, leaving bones weak and brittle. Throughout our lives, the body is constantly absorbing and replacing bone tissue. When a person is afflicted with osteoporosis, the body does not replace old bone as quickly as it should. The condition affects both genders, although it is more frequent in Caucasian and Asian women past menopause. It takes a long time to develop and can become quite severe – enough that a simple movement like bending over can lead to a fracture.

Not much is known as to what causes the condition. However, it is known that osteoporosis progresses throughout a person’s lifetime. Most people achieve peak bone mass in their 30s. After this time, replacement bone tissue is produced at a slower pace. This reduces total bone mass and, if bone loss is severe enough, can lead to osteoporosis.

What are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

In many cases, patients do not notice any symptoms, especially during the early stages. Some do not even realize they have osteoporosis until a medical diagnosis has been made. The condition often manifests through:

  • Bone fractures
  • Chronic pain
  • Immobility
  • Loss of height
  • Stooped posture (Dowager’s hump)
  • Back pain
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving

Osteoporosis Causes

Throughout a person’s life, the old cells of their bones are replaced by new cells – it is a lifelong process of cell turnover known as remodeling. When the old bone cells dissolve before they can be replaced by new, healthy bone cells, osteoporosis develops.

Many factors may contribute to this imbalance in old bone cell resorption and the replacement of new bone cells, and most of these factors have something to do with the process of aging. A poor diet with an insufficient amount of certain essential minerals can lead to osteoporosis. Because calcium strengthens bones, a deficit of calcium – and, additionally, vitamin D – is a major cause of the condition. A lifestyle which includes too much alcohol and tobacco use can lead to osteoporosis. Additionally, bone loss becomes rapid after menopause, so women are more likely to develop osteoporosis during this time. The loss of estrogen leads to a thinning and weakening of the bones, which then causes osteoporosis.

There is also a genetic component to osteoporosis; individuals with relatives who have suffered from osteoporosis are more likely to develop the condition.

How is Osteoporosis Treated?

There is currently no known cure for osteoporosis. However, there are numerous treatments that can help patients manage the symptoms. The approach depends on the individual’s risk of breaking a bone in the upcoming decade, which can be determined with a bone density test.

Those with low risk may simply manage the condition by avoiding certain activities that can lead to a fracture. In the event of a heightened risk, bisphosphonate medications may be prescribed and can be taken as a pill or administered through an IV. Hormone-related therapies can help maintain a good bone density, though some carry with them the chance of complications.

Osteoporosis Prevention

Osteoporosis is not entirely preventable, but it can be delayed in many ways. The first and foremost is to eat a diet rich in calcium and nutrients – if necessary, take vitamins and supplements to ensure that you are getting all the calcium and vitamin D that you need. Certain factors which contribute to osteoporosis, such as family history and hormone levels, are not necessarily within a person’s control. Additionally, certain lifestyle habits can decrease a person’s susceptibility to developing osteoporosis. Getting sufficient exercise and physical activity, staying away from cigarettes and too much alcohol, and eating a healthy diet can all do wonders to strengthen a person’s bones and general health. Additionally, taking action to care for one’s bones early on in life can make a great difference in delaying the onset of osteoporosis.