Worldwide, osteoporosis causes a bone fracture every three seconds, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. That equates to almost 9 million fractures each year, and women are much more likely to develop the condition – one in three over the age of 50, versus one in five men. In women over the age of 45, it is one of the main causes of days spent in hospital, topping even breast cancer, diabetes and heart attacks. It’s worth knowing a little more about it, then…
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is an age-related degenerative disease that makes the bones weak and prone to breakages over time. It occurs when a person loses a lot of bone mass or the body does not reproduce bone as it should—or both—increasing the risk of fractures. In people with this condition, the bones become porous, and this tends to progress with age. (The word osteoporosis means “porous bones” in Greek, by the way.) Even simple everyday actions can lead to fractures and breaks, especially of the hips, wrists, ribs and spin, which often leads to other health complications.
What are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Usually, there are no symptoms, which is why people sometimes refer to the condition as a “silent epidemic.” They typically only present themselves once a bone has been fractured or broken, in which case pain (that can be severe) normally becomes a symptom. There can be early signs, however, and these may become more evident as times goes on. Signs of osteoporosis include pains in the joints, a curvature of the spine (this generally means that it’s already at an advanced stage) and difficulty standing, or standing up straight. These signs are often ignored, though.
What are the Risk Factors?
Osteoporosis, although largely related to age, is thought to be caused by several things that work in tandem to increase overall risk, referred to medically as “potentially modifiable” and “non-modifiable” risk factors. Potentially modifiable risk factors are those that can be influenced or changed, such as alcohol consumption, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, excess endurance training, vitamin D deficiency, medications, etc. Non-modifiable risk factors are those that cannot be changed or influenced, such as age, genetics, hormones, ethnicity, gender, some diseases, etc.
What are the Treatment Options?
Although osteoporosis isn’t curable, there are several treatments, and lifestyle changes are normally part of the plan. The main purpose of treatment is to stop or slow down the loss of bone. This can be achieved through hormone replacement therapy, selective estrogen receptor modulators, testosterone treatment, calcitonin, bisphosphonates, stem cell therapy and vitamin D and calcium supplements. Lifestyle changes can include quitting smoking and drinking, getting more calcium, spending more time in the sun, exercising regularly and limiting caffeine consumption.
What is the Prognosis?
There is an increased risk of mortality and health problems due to the complications that can arise with fractures. But the prognosis is generally quite good for patients, and the death rate is relatively low. Treatments are usually effective and lifestyle changes can make a world of difference in those dealing with osteoporosis. But why not just make the changes upfront and just prevent the condition altogether.