BHealthy Blog

Osteoporosis: What Is It and What Causes It?

Dr. Rick Wyatt, Baptist Health OBGYN
 

What is osteoporosis?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
 
Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses such as bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Your bones are in a constant state of renewal — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass by their early 20s. As people age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created. How likely you are to develop osteoporosis depends partly on how much bone mass you attained in your youth. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women — especially older women who are past menopause — are at highest risk.

What causes osteoporosis?

The exact cause for osteoporosis is unknown. But a number of factors contribute to the disease including:
  • Aging. Bones become less dense and weaker with age.
  • Race. White and Asian women are most at risk. But, all races may get the disease.
  • Body weight. People who weigh less and have less muscle are more at risk for this condition.
  • Lifestyle factors. Lack of physical activity, caffeine use, excessive alcohol use, smoking, dietary calcium, and vitamin D deficiency may all increase your risk.
  • Certain medicines. Some medicines may increase your risk.
  • Family history. Having a family history of bone disease may increase your risk.

Does osteoporosis have symptoms?

There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you may have signs and symptoms that 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

Can osteoporosis be prevented?

Medications, healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200 milligrams when women turn 50 and men turn 70. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Canned salmon or sardines with bones
  • Soy products, such as tofu
  • Calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice

If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, consider taking calcium supplements.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. Other tests include:

  • Bone density test (bone densitometry). Measurement of the mass of bone in relation to its volume to find the risk of getting osteoporosis. During this painless test, you lie on a padded table as a scanner passes over your body. In most cases, only a few bones are checked — usually in the hip, wrist and spine.
  • Blood tests. These tests are done to measure calcium and potassium levels.
  • FRAX score. A score given to estimate the risk of a fracture within 10 years. The score uses the results of a bone density test as well as other factors.
  • X-rays. This test uses electromagnetic energy beams to make images of tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Women are encouraged to do the following to monitor her risk for osteoporosis:

  • Review lifestyle practices with their healthcare providers regularly.
  • Have their personal risk for falls checked at least once a year after menopause.
  • Have their height and weight checked yearly.
  • Get checked for the development of a rounded humped in the spine and back pain (kyphosis).

See Dr. Wyatt talk about osteoporosis on KATV:

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