Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is a disease in which there is a loss of bone mass and destruction of bone tissue. This process causes weakening of the bones and makes them more likely to break. The bones most often affected are the hips, spine, and wrists.

Who is affected by osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects over 10 million Americans over the age of 50, with women four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Another 34 million Americans over the age of 50 have low bone mass (osteopenia) and therefore have an increased risk for osteoporosis. Estrogen deficiency is one of the main causes of bone loss in women during and after menopause. Women may lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis

Although the exact medical cause is unknown, a number of factors contribute to osteoporosis, including the following:

  • Aging. Bones become less dense and weaker with age.

  • Race. White and Asian women have the highest risk factor, although any race may develop the disease.

  • Body weight. Obesity is associated with a higher bone mass, therefore people who weigh less and have less muscle are more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

  • Lifestyle factors. The following lifestyle factors may increase a person's risk of osteoporosis:

    • Physical inactivity

    • Caffeine

    • Excessive alcohol use

    • Smoking

    • Dietary calcium and vitamin D deficiency

  • Certain medications

  • Family history of bone disease

In 2006, the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reviewed and updated its guidelines on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Among its updated recommendations, NAMS suggests that women's lifestyle practices should be reviewed regularly by their doctors, and that practices that help to reduce the risk for osteoporosis should be encouraged. Also, NAMS recommends that a woman's risk for falls should be evaluated at least once a year after menopause has occurred. An additional recommendation is that a woman's height and weight should be measured annually, and she should be assessed for kyphoses--development of a rounded humped spines--and back pain.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

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. The symptoms of osteoporosis may resemble other bone disorders or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

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