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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become weak and are thus more likely to break. Your bones lose calcium and the insides become porous, like a honeycomb.  Technically speaking, this is called losing “bone mass”. People with low bone mass are more susceptible to breaking bones.
weak bones

Bone mass generally peaks around the age of 30-35, and then starts to slowly decline at around age 50 in women (60 in men) when you start to lose bone mass faster than your body can grow it back. This happens to all adults, however critical loss of bone mass (osteoporosis) is much more common in women.

This is because women tend to have lower bone mass to begin with, live longer on average (more time to lose to bone mass), and generally take in less calcium. Women also need estrogen (a female hormone) to keep their bones strong, and estrogen production falls for all women once menopause hits.

Broken bones are a serious impediment to the quality of your life, particularly when you are at an advanced age. Not only can it cause pain, but serious incidents such as breaking a hip can cause disability, loss of independence, and deformity.

Osteoporosis is a major health threat. It is estimated that 50% of women and 15% of men in the US will be affected by osteoporosis at some point in their lives.

What is Osteopenia? (Low Bone Mass)

After having a bone density test, your doctor may tell you that you have Osteopenia. Osteopenia is not a disease, but just the technical term for having lower than normal bone density. Your bone density is lower than is normal and safe, but not so low that osteoporosis is indicated. Roughly 34 million women and 12 million men have Osteopenia in the US.

Low bone mass can be caused by variety of factors including, but not limited to:

  • genetics
  • non-ideal bone mass development during adolescence
  • medical conditions or treatments that affect bones

Having low bone mass does not mean you will develop osteoporosis, however your risk to develop this disease and the associated fractures greatly increases

Types of Osteoporosis

There are 2 main types of osteoporosis: primary and secondary. In cases of primary osteoporosis, either the condition is caused by age-related bone loss (sometimes called senile osteoporosis) or the cause is unknown (idiopathic osteoporosis). In cases of secondary osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass is caused by certain lifestyle behaviors, chronic diseases, or medications.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” as it does not have any obvious external symptoms until a fracture occurs. In a recent study, nearly half of women age 50 or older had osteoporosis or low bone mass density and did not know it. You may not know you have osteoporosis until you actually have a serious sign such as breaking a broken or fractured bone, lower back pain, or a hunched back. Breaking a bone occurs while doing normal activity such as climbing stairs, bending forward, or lifting objects.

Osteoporosis can affect any bone in your body, but tends to occur most frequently in the hip, waist, and spine. Osteoporosis in the vertebrae of the spine is a very serious problem.

Symptoms of osteoporosis in your vertebrate include:

  • Height loss – osteoporosis leads to vertebrae in your spine collapsing and actually making you shorter
  • Back pain
  • Curved or hunched back
  • Sloping shoulders

If you are elderly, a broken hip makes you up to four times more likely to die within three months. If you survive, the injury often causes your health to spiral downward. One in five people with a hip fracture ends up in a nursing home within a year. Many others become isolated, depressed, or frightened to leave home because they fear they will fall. Clearly, the cost of weak bones to Americans, their families, and our country is huge.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

There is no single factor that causes osteoporosis. Rather, there are numerous risk factors that can contribute.

Aging. Bone loss inevitably starts to happen as we get older. Bone is a living tissue that is always growing and being replaced.  Most people reach their maximum bone mass density in their mid thirties. Afterwards, the rate at which bone degrades and is removed starts to become larger than the rate that new bone is created. On average, 1% of bone mass is lost per year starting around age 40

Hormones. Estrogen plays an important role in osteoporosis. Women need estrogen (a female hormone) to keep their bones strong, and estrogen production falls for all women once menopause hits. . In women, bone loss can reach much higher levels (3-5%) during the first 5-6 years in post menopause.

Genetics. Heredity is a factor and people with a history of osteoporosis in their family should be diligent in monitoring their bone mass density. Heredity also plays a factor in the skeleton structure you begin with. Individuals who naturally have skinnier, less dense skeleton structures are more prone to osteoporosis since they will have less bone mass to begin as they enter middle/old age.

Physical Activity. Like muscles, bones are a living tissue that need exercise in order to remain strong and healthy. Stress from physical activity – whether it comes from normal every-day activities like walking or from physical training – exerts force on your bones. Your bones respond by restructuring and building up bone. Just like muscles, if you are inactive, your bones become weaker since there is nothing for the to respond to. Use it or lose it!

Diet. Calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous are all critical building blocks for bone. If your diet is lacking in these foods, this can contribute to osteoporosis. Additionally, certain items such as alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and soda can interfere with your body from absorbing calcium.

Other Causes. Certain medications such as cortisone, corticosteroids, thyroid supplements, and anticoagulants can interfere with calcium absorption. Additionally, other illnesses such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and hyperthyroidism can cause bone loss.

spine collapse


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