WHAT IS IT?
Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle so that even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist, or spine.
Factors that can increase your risk of osteoporosis include:
- Family history. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk.
- Body frame size. Men and women with small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.
- Sex hormones. Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone. Reduced estrogen at menopause is a risk factor for women. Men experience a gradual reduction in testosterone with age.
- Thyroid problems. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. This can occur if you have an overactive thyroid or you take too much thyroid medication to treat an underactive thyroid.
- Other hormone disorders. Osteoporosis has also been associated with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.
- Low calcium intake. Too little calcium in your diet increases your risk.
- Sedentary lifestyle. People who are inactive are at increased risk.
- Steroid medications. Long-term use of oral or injected corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and cortisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process.
- Gastrointestinal surgery. Surgery to reduce the size of your stomach or to bypass or remove part of the intestine limits the surface area available to absorb nutrients, including calcium.
- Malabsorption disorders. Diseases that interfere with normal absorption of nutrients increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Typically there are no symptoms early on. Once bones are weakened, symptoms may include:
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected
Osteoporosis is generally diagnosed with a test that measures your bone density. For the test, you lie on a padded table and a scanner passes over your body. The scanner uses low levels of X-rays to determine the proportion of mineral in your bones.
The most effective way to combat osteoporosis is with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Drugs known as bisphosphonates are often the first line of treatment.
Estrogen, especially when started soon after menopause, can help maintain bone density. However, estrogen therapy can increase a woman’s risk of other serious illnesses.
To reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis or experiencing a fracture:
- Get adequate calcium. Men and women ages 18 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day. The amount increases to 1,200 mg daily in women 50 and older and in men 70 and older. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice. If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, consider taking calcium supplements.
- Get adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Adults should aim for 600 to 800 international units (IU) daily. Sources of vitamin D are sunlight and fortified milk. It’s also available as a supplement.
- Exercise. Exercise helps build strong bones and slow bone loss. Strength training helps strengthen muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine, and weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and jogging, affect the bones in your legs, hips, and lower spine.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the rate of bone loss and the chance of experiencing a fracture.
- Avoid excessive alcohol. Alcohol may decrease bone formation.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.