Definition and Overview

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the thinning and weakening of the bones. It is considered a highly destructive condition because of the impact it can have on a patient’s mobility and lifestyle. Osteoporosis and its predecessor, osteopenia, can rob a person’s productivity and therefore lower the quality of life.

Aside from that, those suffering from osteoporosis have a heightened risk of getting painful fractures. They may suffer serious bone injury even with minor falls.

Causes

Many people face a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Up to 80% of cases have hereditary cause, while lifestyle is blamed for the remaining 20%. Those with heightened susceptibility to the disease include:

  • Elderly people
  • Those with a family history of osteoporosis
  • Smokers
  • Menopausal women
  • Underweight people
  • Patients taking some medications

Osteoporosis is generally caused by low bone mineral density. However, the main factor that causes the bone mineral density to be lower than normal is unknown.

If the mineral density is lower than normal but is not low enough to be categorized as osteoporosis, it can instead be considered as a case of osteopenia. This, however, can easily progress into osteoporosis, especially when left untreated.

To understand the development of osteoporosis, it is important to delve into how bones work. As living tissues, bones do not stay the same way all throughout life. Instead, the body is actually constantly breaking down old bone and rebuilding new ones. Sometimes, however, the process of rebuilding new bones slows down, which leads to the body breaking down more bones than it builds.

Key Symptoms


Although very destructive, osteoporosis is a silent and slowly progressing health condition that causes little to no visible signs. Because of this, many osteoporosis sufferers do not find out about the disease until they get a broken bone or a fracture after an accident. This means that the disease is often left alone to progress steadily and become severe before patients become aware of it and seek treatment.

The few symptoms that osteoporosis usually comes with are:

  • Severe back pain
  • Loss in height
  • Poor posture
  • Fractures

Who to See

If you notice any of the symptoms of osteoporosis, your primary care provider can conduct some tests to determine your bone mineral density. If you feel intense pain, you will also be checked for fractures.

Doctors order a variety of tests to guide them in diagnosing osteoporosis. These include:

  • DEXA Scan (Dual X-ray Absorptiometry)
  • Bone density testing
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Bone densitometry

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, you will be referred to medical professionals who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of metabolic bone disorders.

Types of Treatments Available

Treatments for osteoporosis focus on slowing down bone loss and aiding in the formation of new ones.

The primary treatment of osteoporosis includes:

  • Medications – Certain medications help inhibit the break down of bones or slow down bone loss. Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax, and Binosto are the most commonly prescribed medications for osteoporosis. These medications are only taken once a week or once a month as they can cause esophagus ulcers if taken frequently or incorrectly. Other medications such as Reclast and Evista help to strengthen the bones and maintain bone mass.

  • Strontium treatment – Strontium, a trace element with a chemical composition similar to calcium, has also been proven effective in slowing bone breakdown and in forming new ones.

  • Forteo– this is a special type of osteoporosis medication prescribed to post-menopausal women who have a higher risk of developing bone fractures. It contains a synthetic form of the parathyroid hormone that stimulates bone formation and helps in increasing bone mineral density.

  • Prolia – this is another special medication used for the treatment of osteoporosis. Prolia, a monoclonal antibody, is the first biologic therapy that inactivates the body’s natural mechanism for bone breakdown.

  • Supplementation – Supplementation of calcium and vitamin D is, in most cases, necessary to help in the rebuilding of bones.

  • Exercise – Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises are highly recommended by the National Osteoporosis Foundation to help maintain bone density. Balance, posture, and functional exercises are also beneficial as they help reduce the risk of falls and slips, which are the leading causes of bone fractures in osteoporosis sufferers.

If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia and you experience severe pain after falling or slipping, seek medical care immediately to determine whether you have a bone fracture.

Also, call your doctor if you develop a sudden pain in the back as this might be caused by a spinal compression that often occurs with osteoporosis.

Since treatment for osteoporosis is continuous and complex, it is best to work closely with a specialist who can closely monitor the progression of the disease and customize a treatment plan that works best for you.

References:

  • Todd JA, Robinson RJ. (2003). “Osteoporosis and Exercise.” Postgraduate Medical Journal.
  • Gourlay M. et al. (2012). “Bone-Density Testing Interval and Transition to Osteoporosis in Older Women.” The New England Journal of Medicine.
  • International Osteoporosis Foundation: “Epidemiology of Osteoporosis.”
  • Masi L. (2008). “Epidemiology of Osteoporosis.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  • Igbal MM. (2000). “Osteoporosis: Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” South Med Journal.
  • Lane N. (2006). “Epidemiology, Etiology, and Diagnosis of Osteoporosis.” Aging Center, Medicine and Rheumatology, University of California at Davis Medical Center.
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