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Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones. It means that you have bones that are thin and brittle with lots of holes inside them like a sponge. This makes them easy to break. Osteoporosis can lead to broken bones (fractures) in the hip, spine, and wrist. These fractures can be disabling and may make it hard for you to live on your own.
Osteoporosis affects millions of older adults. It usually occurs after age 60. It's most common in women, but men can get it too.
Osteoporosis is caused by a lack of bone strength or bone density. It's much more common in women than in men. In women, bone loss increases around menopause, when ovaries decrease production of estrogen, a hormone that protects against bone loss. So the older women get, the more likely they are to have osteoporosis.
In the early stages of osteoporosis, you probably won't have symptoms. Sometimes the first sign is a broken bone in your hip, spine, or wrist after a bump or fall. As the disease gets worse, symptoms include back pain and a curved upper back.
To diagnose osteoporosis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. You may also have a test that measures your bone strength (bone density test) and your risk for a broken bone.
Treatment for osteoporosis includes medicine to reduce bone loss and to build bone strength. To make your bones stronger, eat foods that contain calcium and vitamin D. And do activities like walking and lifting weights.
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Osteoporosis is caused by a lack of bone strength or bone density.
As a natural part of aging, bone tissue breaks down. It is absorbed faster than new bone is made, and bones become thinner. You are more likely to have osteoporosis if you didn't reach your ideal bone density during your childhood and teen years.
Osteoporosis is much more common in women than in men. In women, bone loss increases around menopause. That's when ovaries decrease production of estrogen, a hormone that protects against bone loss. So the older a woman gets, the more likely she is to have osteoporosis.
Several things put you at risk for osteoporosis.
Some factors include:
To help prevent osteoporosis:
In the early stages of osteoporosis, you probably won't have symptoms. As the disease progresses, you may have symptoms related to weakened bones, such as:
In a normal, healthy adult, bone is constantly absorbed into the body and then rebuilt. During childhood and the teen years, new bone tissue is added faster than existing bone is absorbed. As a result, your bones become larger and heavier until about age 30 when you reach peak bone mass (density). After age 30, the rate at which your bone tissue dissolves and is absorbed by the body slowly increases, while the rate of bone building decreases. So overall you lose a small amount of bone each year after age 30.
In women, bone loss is more rapid and usually begins after monthly menstrual periods stop, when a woman's production of the hormone estrogen slows down (usually between the ages of 45 and 55). A man's bone thinning typically starts to develop gradually when his production of the hormone testosterone slows down, at about 45 to 50 years of age. Women typically have smaller and lighter bones than men. As a result, women develop osteoporosis far more often than men. Osteoporosis usually does not have a noticeable effect on people until they are 60 or older. The more bone mass you developed early in life, the less likely you are to get osteoporosis.
A person with thinning bones may be diagnosed with low bone density (sometimes called osteopenia). Low bone density sometimes progresses to osteoporosis.
When bones thin, they lose strength and break more easily. The bones that break most often due to osteoporosis are:
Vertebrae that are weak because of osteoporosis may break and collapse on top of each other. (This is called a compression fracture.) These fractures of the spine can cause back pain, stooped posture, loss of height, and a curved upper back (dowager's hump).
Hip fractures are often caused by a fall. They can make it very hard for you to move around. And they usually require major surgery. After a hip fracture, you may have medical complications such as blood clots, pressure injuries, or pneumonia.
Wrist fractures can make you less active and independent.
In women, bone loss increases when the ovaries reduce production of estrogen, a hormone that protects against bone loss.
Call your doctor now if you:
Call your doctor for an appointment if you:
If you are nearing age 65, have low bone density, or think that you are at high risk for osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about your concerns.
If you don't have any risk factors for osteoporosis and you are already taking preventive measures, such as taking adequate calcium and vitamin D, you may only need routine screening.
During the physical exam, the doctor will:
The bone density test helps your doctor estimate the strength of your bones. If the test finds that your bone thickness is less than normal but isn't osteoporosis, you may have low bone density (sometimes called osteopenia). It's a less severe type of bone thinning.
Routine urine and blood tests can rule out other medical conditions. These include hyperthyroidism and Cushing's syndrome. These conditions can cause bone loss.
A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) test is a type of bone density test. It checks for osteoporosis. The test measures bone thickness. It is used to see if your bones are getting thin and brittle, which means they could break more easily.
Testing at least two different bones each time is the most reliable and accurate way of measuring bone density.
In most cases, a bone density scan is done in a radiology department or clinic by a technologist. The DXA scan, which scans the hip and lower spine, takes about 20 minutes.
Treatment for osteoporosis focuses on reducing bone loss, building bone strength, and preventing broken bones. Treatment may include:
Making even small changes in how you eat and exercise, along with taking medicine, can help prevent a broken bone.
It's also important to protect yourself from falling. For example, you can reduce your risk of breaking a bone by making your home safer.
You can do a lot to slow bone loss and prevent broken bones.
Medicines are used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis. Some medicines slow the rate of bone loss or make bones thicker. Medicines are also used for pain from broken bones caused by osteoporosis.
Medicines that help treat and prevent bone loss include:
Compression fractures and other broken bones caused by osteoporosis can cause a lot of pain that lasts for several weeks. Medicines to relieve this pain include:
Current as of: July 10, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review BoardAll Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: July 10, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review BoardAll Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
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