Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but osteoporosis-related bone loss is more common in older women. Your bones increase in density when you're young, but begin to lose density and weaken after age 35. Osteoporosis involves bone loss that’s faster than normal. This can happen for many reasons, including lifestyle, gender, family history or pre-existing health conditions.
Osteoporosis is a chronic, potentially crippling disease. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 50 percent of all women and 25 percent of men 50 and older will break a bone as a result of osteoporosis. Your hip, back and wrist bones are most likely to break.
Bones contain calcium and other bone-strengthening minerals. Your body constantly breaks down old bone and replaces it with new — a process called remodeling. Certain cells break down bone and release calcium into your bloodstream, while other cells draw calcium from your blood and create new bone. A balance of bone-building and bone-dissolving cells helps keep your bones healthy.
As you get older, more bone is broken down than can be replaced — it’s normal to lose some bone as you age. But, if you don’t take steps to keep your bones healthy, you can lose too much bone and get osteoporosis.
Men face a somewhat lower risk because they typically have larger, stronger bones and don't experience the abrupt hormonal changes of menopause — hormones can help balance your body's bone-dissolving cellular activity. However, men can lose bone density due to age-related decreases in testosterone. Bone-protective calcium absorption also decreases in both men and women with age. By age 70, men and women lose bone mass at similar rates.
In addition to normal bone loss associated with aging, there are risk factors that can speed up bone loss and increase your risk. Common risk factors include:
- A small and thin body type, especially small-boned women weighing less than 127 pounds.
- A family history of osteoporosis.
- Hormonal changes, especially postmenopausal women.
- Being of Caucasian or Asian descent.
- Osteopenia (low bone mass).
- Having a previous broken bone, especially if you're over 50.
- A diet low in nutrition, particularly calcium and vitamin D.
- Certain medications, such as steroids, that can cause bone loss.
- Some hormonal therapies and cancer treatments (including radiation) that affect bone density.
- Certain conditions, such as kidney failure, adrenal gland disorders or cancer.
- Lifestyle habits such as smoking, alcohol abuse or physical inactivity.
A bone mineral density test is a simple, painless way to measure and evaluate bone health. The experts at El Camino Health perform bone density screening and recommend steps you can take to help keep your bones strong.
To protect against bone loss, you should:
- Eat a nutritious diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
- Exercise regularly, including weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, tennis or dancing.
- Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking. He or she may adjust your current medications or prescribe others to help prevent or slow bone loss.
El Camino Health offers a variety of osteoporosis exercise classes and education to help you prevent osteoporosis-related fractures and improve overall health.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Osteoporosis is often called "the silent disease" because it can progress without symptoms. You may not even know you have osteoporosis until you break a bone. Symptoms can include bone or muscle pain. In some instances, disc conditions or vertebral compression fractures can cause severe back pain, decreased height or spinal deformities related to bone loss. A hunched back (kyphosis) may be a sign of osteoporosis-related bone loss.
Because osteoporosis symptoms can be similar to other bone disorders or medical conditions, it's important to see your doctor for an expert diagnosis.
If you're diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, various treatment options — including medications — are available to manage your condition. Treatment will vary depending on your age, health, medical history and other factors.
At El Camino Health, your doctor will discuss osteoporosis treatment options that are best suited to your condition. Treatment will focus on managing your symptoms and preventing fractures and further bone loss. Your doctor may recommend rehabilitation services to help manage pain, prevent bone loss and fractures, restore any loss of function, and provide assistance with nutrition, exercise and more.