A broken bone may be perceived as a common consequence of childhood or a symbol of mettle for athletes, but for older adults living with osteoporosis, it can be a devastating and unexpected injury that is painful and requires a lengthy recovery. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and an additional 44 million live with low bone density, placing them at an increased risk of bone damage or breakage. No matter your age, by understanding the causes, signs, and symptoms of osteoporosis, you can make the diet and lifestyle choices needed to mitigate your risk of developing this dangerous condition.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones, making them more susceptible to an accidental break. It is often called a silent disease because one can’t feel bones weakening, and if undiagnosed it can progress quickly until the patient is at a high risk of a sudden, painful break. Observed under a microscope, the cells of a healthy bone appear in a honeycomb shape. In cases of osteoporosis, the holes in the “honeycomb” are more substantial, making the overall bone composition weaker and less dense.
For those with a mild case of osteoporosis, a slip and fall could result in a painful break, notably a break of the hip, wrist, or spine. In more severe cases, all it takes to suffer a painful break is a sudden sneeze. The disease often affects bones in the spine, and can also result in chronic pain, reduced height, a stooped posture, and mobility issues.
Causes of Osteoporosis
An individual can develop osteoporosis when their body loses too much bone or makes too little. It can develop with age or lack of proper nutrition; however, it can also be a side effect of a variety of other health complications, such as:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Hyperparathyroidism or hyperthyroidism
- Cancer, particularly of the prostate and breast, multiple myeloma, leukemia, or Lymphoma
- Hematologic/blood disorders
- Sickle cell disease
- Digestive and gastrointestinal disorders
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Weight loss surgery, gastrectomy or gastrointestinal bypass procedures
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Neurological or nervous system disorders
- Spinal cord injuries or scoliosis
- Blood and bone marrow disorders
- Mental Illness, including depression and eating disorders
- Endocrine or hormonal disorders
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Irregular periods or premature menopause
- Low levels of testosterone and estrogen in men
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or emphysema
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
- Liver disease, including biliary cirrhosis
- Organ transplants
- Certain medications
Who is at Risk of Osteoporosis?
Bones can weaken and lose density with age. Even those not living with the risk factors mentioned above, adults age 50 or older are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, with women being slightly more at risk than men.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis
You can reduce your risk of osteoporosis by taking the following preventive measures:
- If you are a current smoker, get help quitting as soon as possible
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Take precautions to prevent slips and falls
How to Diagnose Osteoporosis
A bone density test uses low-level X-rays to determine the proportion of minerals in your bones.
Obtaining a bone density test as recommended by your doctor is the best way to monitor your bone health and benefit from early detection.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
If diagnosed with Osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend a variety of age-appropriate therapies to help strengthen your bones and mitigate your chance of a break. Your doctor’s treatment plan may include dietary and lifestyle changes or medication such as bisphosphonates or hormone-related therapy.
When to Talk to A Doctor
If you’re 50 years old or older and have ever broken a bone, talk to your doctor about obtaining a bone density test. Such screenings can identify your risk so you can take steps to reduce the possibility of bone loss further and lower your chances of an unexpected, painful osteoporotic bone break.