Osteoporosis is one of those bone diseases that you’ve likely heard of but not really considered seriously. It’s a disease that’s common in older people, so you likely overlook it until you gain one or two risk factors. That’s if you take it seriously at all. There’s usually that feeling it’s never going to happen to you, right?
Well, osteoporosis is a serious condition. It’s more than just weakened bones. The disease can lead to brittle bones that break much easier than ever before. There are multiple symptoms but ways that you can prevent this from becoming an issue.
Whether you’re on the verge of being diagnosed or someone close to you has recently been diagnosed, you want to know as much as possible about it. Here’s all you need to know about osteoporosis, including prevention, treatment, and symptoms.
What Exactly Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. The bones become week and brittle so that just mild stresses can lead to fractures. These mild stresses include the likes of bending and coughing! Most of the breaks will be within the spine, hips, or wrists.
The bone tissue is constantly replaced after it breaks down. When someone is diagnosed with osteoporosis, it means that the bone tissue is breaking down and never be replaced. This causes the old bone is removed and the current bone just remains in its weakened state. There are various reasons this can happen, but it is also possible to prevent the disease from occurring.
One of the problems though is age. As your body gets older, the process of making new bone can be difficult and slow. Your body can get rid of old bone quicker than it can replace, so you will need to support this to avoid too much bone mass loss.
Who’s More Likely to Suffer from Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis doesn’t care whether you’re young, old, male, female, or of your race. It’s a disease that can affect everyone and anyone. However, there are certain people who are more likely to suffer from it due to genetic makeup, gender processes, and dietary issues.
Older women who have gone through menopause are more likely to develop the condition than men and younger women. This is due to the amount of calcium lost and the reduced hormones in the body during and after menopause. It’s the hormones that can help to manage the levels of calcium and the process of replacing the broken-down bone tissue.
Asian and white women are more likely to suffer compared to black women. This is due to the bone density and diet. Many Asian women are lactose intolerant, so they can suffer from lower levels of calcium in the body. Black women have denser bones than Asian and white women to start with, so the loss of tissue takes longer to develop into osteoporosis.
Medications can also lead to a difficulty in absorbing the right nutrients to support the bone health. Your doctor will inform you if there’s a potential risk due to the medication you’re taking. Some exercises can lead to more bone tissue degrading quickly. While exercise is good for the body, mixed with other issues it can lead to more tissue-degrading than being replaced.
Other Osteoporosis Risk Factors You Have No Control Over
Gender and diet aren’t the only two elements that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Age is also a factor. As you get older, you’ll find it harder for your body to repair quickly. As mentioned, it takes longer to build more bone tissue, meaning you could lose more than you’re adding back into the body. The bones are in a constant flux of loss.
There is also a genetic link. Those with a sibling or parent with osteoporosis are more likely to develop it later in life. This is especially the case if either parent suffered a hip fracture due to the condition. There is nothing you can do about your family history, so you’ll want to take extra steps to prevent the problem.
Your frame and size will also affect your risks. This is one of the reasons men are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than women. Men tend to have bigger frames and denser bones, so it is more still available as the bone tissue degrades.
Hormonal and Medical Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
There are certain hormones that can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis. Lowered sex hormones can lead to weaker bones. Women experience this after menopause, but men can also experience reduced testosterone levels as they get older, which makes them more likely to develop the condition. Some cancer treatments can affect the levels of estrogen and testosterone in women and men (respectively), leading to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Those who have thyroid problems are more likely to suffer from bone issues. The thyroid controls many hormones. The most common issue is in those with overactive thyroids since the absorption of the right nutrients is affected.
The good news is you can control some of these factors. Doctors can prescribe medications to help manage the levels of hormones within the body.
There are some illnesses that can lead to more bone loss. Celiac disease, kidney and liver diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and some autoimmune conditions can make it harder for the body to absorb the right nutrients. Treatments for many of these conditions can also cause problems, as they reduce the amount of calcium and directly affect the health of your bones. Your doctor will discuss steps to take if you are taking medications or suffering from any of these illnesses to help manage the bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
How Your Diet and Lifestyle Can Lead to Osteoporosis
You can take steps to reduce the risks of developing osteoporosis. Your diet and lifestyle are two factors you have complete control over.
One of the main reasons for bone loss is a lack of calcium (and a lack of vitamin D with the calcium). Your bones need calcium to strengthen, but the vitamin D levels help the body to absorb and use the calcium. Together they can help to improve the bone density and avoid many diseases within the bone.
There are multiple reasons people have low calcium. Those who have eating disorders won’t get enough of any of the right nutrients, leading them to have weaker bones. They are also more likely to be smaller. Those who are underweight (even naturally) can suffer from osteoporosis because their bones aren’t as dense as those within a healthy weight range.
The amount of alcohol you drink can also affect your chances of developing the condition. Alcohol prevents the body from absorbing all the right nutrients. Drinking more than two drinks per day is not recommended.
If you smoke, now is the time to stop. Not only does it increase your risk of lung problems and cancer, but you also increase your risk of osteoporosis. The tobacco prevents the body’s hormonal fluctuations and healthy activity, so the bones are more likely to lose density.
People with a sedentary lifestyle are also more likely to see problems with their bones. It’s important to take steps to improve your posture, strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. Not only will they help to improve bone strength, but they can also reduce the risk of falling and suffering problems due to weaker bones!
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Annoyingly, this is one of those diseases that doesn’t have many symptoms, especially in the earlier stages. You can live with the condition and not know until you suffer from a break.
However, there are some signs that people notice in some of the earlier stages. Most of these symptoms are pushed off as old age, the cold weather, or other conditions.
Back pain is one of the most common symptoms. This is often due to the vertebra collapsing or fracturing, which will need medical help to treat the condition. Your doctor will usually then look at why the collapse or fracture happened.
Many people start to lose height or have a stooped posture. For many, this is viewed as a normal part of getting older, but it means the bones are losing density. They’re breaking down and not repairing, so the height drops.
One of the most common symptoms is a side effect of the condition: broken bones. The fracture will usually happen much easier than ever before and than it should. Some people experience fractures because they bend down to reach something or because they put weight on their wrists. The bones aren’t strong enough to support the weight of the body anymore.
If you are worried about osteoporosis, especially if you are within the risk factor groups, then you’ll want to talk to your doctor. It’s possible for your doctor to go through preventative treatments to help.
Complications of Osteoporosis
Of course, fractures and weakened bones are among the biggest complications of developing osteoporosis. You end up breaking bones much easier than before. The bones weaken, and you can experience more pain than before.
Collapsed or fracture vertebra is the biggest and most dangerous complications. The spine can start to weaken and crumble, causing more pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. Most people will notice this through back pain or from the loss of height and change in posture. It’s important to avoid the condition as it’s not possible to repair this damage once it’s happened.
Preventing Osteoporosis from Happening
While you can’t change some of the risk factors, there are steps you can take to avoid osteoporosis being an issue. It’s all about your diet and the lifestyle choices you make. Good nutrition and getting rid of the sedentary lifestyle are the best ways to help to overcome many of the other risk factors.
Calcium intake is important, as already mentioned. However, it’s not the only important element for the bone tissue. You want to add more protein to your diet. While protein is important for muscle development, it’s important for the development of all the tissues in your body. This includes the bone tissue.
Protein is one of the easiest macronutrients to add to your diet. Meat eaters tend to get plenty, but vegetarians and vegans overlook it. While you may not want to eat animal products, including eggs, you can add more protein to nuts, soy, and legumes. Protein supplements, such as protein powders, are also good options if you struggle to get enough.
Calcium is essential though. If you’re lactose intolerant or cut out dairy for any reason, you can find it harder to get enough calcium in your diet. Up to the age of 50, adults need 1,000mg of calcium daily. After the age of 50, you’ll need to increase that to 1,200mg. You don’t have to add more dairy products if you don’t want.
Dark leafy greens, soy products, and some fishes (like salmon and sardines) have good levels of calcium. You can also take some calcium supplements.
Don’t forget about your levels of vitamin D to increase the amount of calcium is absorbed. You can get this from the sun and from supplements. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your levels of calcium or vitamin D to get the right type of supplements to support the whole-body health.
If you are underweight, now is the time to put on some weight. Underweight is classed as someone with a BMI of below 18.5. Your doctor will tell you if they’re worried about your weight. A BMI between 19/5 and 24.9 is healthy. The more weight you have, the denser your bones usually are. You’ll also reduce the risk of fractures. However, you don’t want to be overweight because of other health problems. Be Goldilocks and get it “just right.”
Exercise is a good way of managing your bone loss and improving strength and density. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never exercised before. Starting now (slowly) will help to support your bone health. Of course, the younger you are, the more benefits you get.
When exercising, focus on balance and weight-bearing exercises for better bone health. They will strengthen the muscles and tissues of the bones. You’ll want to focus more on the arms and spine, as this is where most of the fractures are likely to happen. You can also work on the legs, as stronger legs will help to support the rest of your body.
Some of the most popular exercises, especially as you get older, include tai chi, yoga, jogging and walking. You can also do skiing and impact sports if you’d like. Listen to your body and mind. Swimming is a powerful option, especially for those with aching bones as the water will take your weight. However, it’s not as good as other exercises for improving the health of your bone.
Getting an Osteoporosis Diagnosis
If your doctor suspects that you have osteoporosis, they will order a bone density test. This is done through a machine that uses X-rays to see the mineral levels within the bone. It’s completely painless and you’ll see the scanner pass over the body. Usually, only the spine, wrists and hips are checked as these are the most problematic areas.
Your doctor won’t just see if you have osteoporosis, but also the level of damage. This can affect the treatment suggested and lifestyle changes encouraged.
Regular testing is likely to happen to see how the bones repair during treatment.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
While you can’t always repair the whole damage, your doctor can help to improve some. Treatments can help to encourage more bone production and repair to reduce the weakness, especially in the earlier stages of osteoporosis.
Bisphosphonates are usually prescribed for those with a higher risk of fractures due to the state of their bones. There are various types available, with Fosamax, Actonel, and Boniva among the most popular options. There are side effects such as heartburn symptoms, some abdominal pain, and nausea connected to the medications, but they are minimal when the medication is used properly.
The medications can be given intravenously if your doctor believes this is better for your health. These drugs won’t cause the stomach upsets, but they can lead to muscle aches, headaches, and fever for three days afterward. Your doctor will schedule either quarterly or yearly injections if you get the medication this way.
A serious side effect of using bisphosphonate therapy is a cracked or broken thigh bone. This is rare and linked to using the medication for five or more years. Another rare but serious problem is weakening of the jawbone, which can lead to tooth loss and other mouth problems.
When osteoporosis is in the earlier stages, your doctor may choose to manage your bone density instead. This is also common for those who are high risk but don’t have signs of osteoporosis yet. Hormonal therapies are the most common forms of treatment, usually giving extra estrogen. The hormonal treatment is used in menopausal women.
There are risks of estrogen therapies. Women are more at risk of some cancers and blood clots. Heart disease is also a higher risk. Your doctor will usually assess your overall health and keep an eye on you during the treatment.
When the treatments above aren’t effective, your doctor may investigate a couple of other options. Prolia is often prescribed when bisphosphonates don’t work properly. They offer similar benefits, reducing the risk of all fractures in the body. You will get this via an injection twice a year.
For those who prefer the hormonal treatments, Forteo is a powerful drug. It also helps to stimulate bone growth, which can help to manage weakened bones within the body. This is a daily injection and will last for two years. After this, you’ll move onto other drugs to maintain the bone levels.
The treatments are also mixed with other lifestyle choices. Your doctor will encourage you following the tips for prevention, not just to repair the damage but to help the drugs work effectively.
Managing and Avoiding Osteoporosis
There is no time like the present to take steps to manage your bone health. Your bones will reach peak density at the age of 20, so the more work you do in strengthening them up to this point the better. This can mean encouraging your children to protect their bone health when young.
After the age of 20, you will still naturally repair broken down bone tissue. Your bones just won’t increase in density. You need to help maintain the levels. The best thing to do is avoid osteoporosis becoming an issue and protecting your body to help manage the risk factors you have no control over.