Senior Health

Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that slowly weakens bones until they break easily. It is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors and, in some cases, by medical conditions or medications. Millions of Americans over age 50 have osteoporosis. In addition, millions more have low bone mass, which puts them at risk for the disease. Osteoporosis primarily affects women; one in two U.S. women and one in four U.S. men over age 50 will suffer a broken bone in their lifetime related to osteoporosis. Many of these are painful fractures of the hip, spine, wrist, arm and leg that often occur as a result of a fall. However, even simple household tasks can produce a fracture of the spine if the bones have been weakened by the disease.

What are the symptoms?

Osteoporosis is often called the silent disease because people with osteoporosis may not develop any symptoms. Some may have pain in their bones and muscles, particularly in their back. Occasionally, a collapsed vertebra may cause severe pain, decrease in height, or deformity in the spine. Symptoms of osteoporosis may resemble other bone disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What screening is available?

Bone densitometry is a safe, painless X-ray technique that compares your bone density to the peak bone density that someone of your same sex and ethnicity should have reached at about age 20 to 25, when it is at it’s highest. It is often performed in women at the time of menopause. Several types of bone densitometry are used today to detect bone loss in different areas of the body.

What treatment options are available?

The goals of managing osteoporosis are to decrease pain, prevent fractures, and minimize further bone loss. Some of the methods used to treat osteoporosis are also the methods to help prevent it from developing, including medications and rehabilitation.

Medications

Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) has proven to reduce bone loss, increase bone density, and reduce the risk of hip and spinal fractures in postmenopausal women. However, a woman considering ERT should consult her physician, as the research conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health found several important health risks associated with this therapy. For many women, the risks of ERT outweigh the benefits.

Rehabilitation

The goal of rehabilitation is to help the patient to return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life -- physically, emotionally and socially. In order to help reach this goal, osteoporosis rehabilitation programs may include the following:
  • Exercise programs and conditioning to increase weight bearing and physical fitness
  • Pain management techniques
  • Nutritional counseling to improve calcium and vitamin D intake and decrease caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Use of assistive devices to improve safety at home patient and family education, especially prevention of falls