Osteoporosis occurs when more bone density is lost than is replaced. Affecting women five times more often than men, osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and break more easily. It also increases the likelihood of permanent disability or death as a result of a fracture in older adults.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
The following factors can increase the risk of osteoporosis:
- Vitamin and Mineral Imbalances – Low calcium, low vitamin D, or high vitamin A levels
- Certain Medications and Diseases – Long-term use of corticosteroids and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus, are some examples
- Some Lifestyle Choices and Habits – Smoking, lack of exercise, high caffeine intake, excessive alcohol intake (three or more drinks daily) and low body weight
Early stage osteoporosis often presents without symptoms. However, as osteoporosis advances and bones become weaker, back pain is common. This may be a result of compression fractures, which increase over time.
Curving of the spine can also cause a loss of height, a back hump or stooped posture.
There are several types of bone mineral density (BMD) tests available to check for osteoporosis. Women over 65 and those who are under age 65 and are post-menopausal and have suffered a fracture due to weakened bones should undergo testing for osteoporosis. The following typically focuses on the heel, hip, wrist, hand, or spine:
- Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)-There are several types of screening tests for osteoporosis, but the most reliable one is the DXA which uses low radiation to assign a T-score that compares one’s bone density to that of a 30-year-old woman. Continued monitoring or further evaluation and treatment options may be recommended for patients with a negative score.
- FRAX Analysis calculates one’s risk for fracture based on their individual risk factors for osteoporosis. FRAX Analysis is most often used to determine whether women under 65 should have a DXA test, or if a woman with an abnormal DXA qualifies for medical therapy.
Osteoporosis can be treated with certain medications and healthy lifestyle choices. Medications effectively help to reduce the risk of fracture.
Starting healthy habits early significantly improve bone health later in life. Thirty minutes of exercise a day (especially weight-bearing exercises), eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding tobacco can greatly reduce the risk of osteoporosis.