Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes a loss of bone density, making your bones brittle and weak. People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a decrease in the density of bone, decreasing its strength and resulting in fragile bones. The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis leads to abnormally porous bone by increasing the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner.
Osteoporosis often develops slowly without any symptoms or pain, and it is usually not discovered until the weakened bones cause painful fractures. Most of these are fractures of the hip, wrist and spine.
Osteoporosis can affect both males and females, but it is most likely to occur in women after menopause because of the sudden decrease in estrogen. Estrogen normally protects women against osteoporosis.
You may need a bone density test if you've:
People who have lost at least 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in height may have compression fractures in their spines, for which osteoporosis is one of the main causes.
Fragility fractures occur when a bone becomes so fragile that it breaks much more easily than expected. Fragility fractures can sometimes be caused by a strong cough or sneeze.
Long-term use of steroid medications, such as prednisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process — which can lead to osteoporosis.
In addition to the natural drop in hormones that occurs after menopause, women’s estrogen may also drop during certain cancer treatments. Some treatments for prostate cancer reduce testosterone levels in men. Lowered sex hormone levels weaken bone.
- you are a woman age 65 or older
- you are a man age 70 or older
- you break a bone after age 50
- you are a woman of menopausal age with risk factors
- you are a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors
- you are a man age 50-69 with risk factors
To diagnose osteoporosis and assess your risk of fracture and determine your need for treatment, your doctor will most likely order a bone density scan. This exam is used to measure bone mineral density (BMD). It is most commonly performed using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA).
The DEXA bone density scan is considered the most accurate bone density test. It estimates the amount of bone in your hip, spine and sometimes other bones. Your test result will help your healthcare provider make recommendations to help you protect your bones.
There is no standard treatment for osteoporosis. Your treatment will depend on your specific needs. Generally, your overall risk of fracture will help your doctor to decide on the best course of treatment for you. For patients at high risk, drug treatments are needed to effectively reduce the risk of broken bones due to osteoporosis.
Taking a proactive part in osteoporosis treatment is important. Getting more exercise, eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and reducing unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking will help to maintain bone health.
Exercises for osteoporosis
Exercises or other physical activities that strengthen bones can help maintain bone mass. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are especially beneficial. Flexibility and balance exercises help to protect against falls and reduce fracture risk.
Examples include walking, dancing, low-impact aerobics, elliptical training machines, stair climbing and gardening. These types of exercise work directly on the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss. They also provide cardiovascular benefits, which boost heart and circulatory system health.
It is important to check with a doctor before starting an exercise program.
From a young age, both men and women can take steps to help prevent osteoporosis by making sure that they:
- have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- eat calcium-rich foods.
- absorb enough vitamin D.
- avoid smoking.
- limit alcohol consumption.
- limit caffeine.
- do regular weight-bearing and strength-training activities.