What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” usually affects “older women” causing them to become frail and weak. However, osteoporosis is a condition that begins in the younger years of life. Women reach their peak in bone density when they are in their 30s, and unless special attention is given to the amount of calcium and phosphate in their diet, they may be at risk for osteoporosis later in life. It is estimated that 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis and an estimated 18 million have low bone density, which places them at high risk for osteoporosis.
Fortunately, osteoporosis is the most preventable bone disease. Avoiding the devastating affects of osteoporosis is a relatively easy task. Preparing a health plan for yourself will prove to be beneficial as you age.
Who has Osteoporosis?
Women are the most prevalent group, making up nearly 80% of all those who have osteoporosis. It is thought that as many as 1 in 2 women older than 50 years of age will suffer from the effects of osteoporosis, and 1 in 8 men will suffer from this disease.
All racial and ethnic backgrounds can be affected by this bone disease. However, Caucasian and Asian racial groups are at greater risk, with high percentages in postmenopausal woman.
Other related factors are:
- Thin build or small frame
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Advanced age
- Early or surgically induced menopause
- Eating disorders
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Inactive lifestyle
- Calcium deficiency in the diet
- Thyroid medications
- Antacids that contain aluminum
What causes Osteoporosis?
Your body requires two essential minerals for the development of healthy bone tissue, namely calcium and phosphate. In youth, our body uses these two important minerals to produce bone. As we age, the body reabsorbs old bone as new bone takes its place.
Other vital organs also require calcium to function properly, and these organs will take the calcium they need from your bones causing a calcium deficiency in your body. When your diet is deficient in calcium and phosphate, bone formation suffers, making bones weaker therefore, the body cannot produce new bone tissue fast enough to replenish the old. This bone loss usually occurs over many years.
Hormones are major culprits in the cause of osteoporosis. Specific hormones like Estrogen in women and Androgen in men are considered major players in osteoporosis. Women, over the age of 60, are the most frequently diagnosed group because as a woman enters menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate and eventually decrease, which increases the risk of osteoporosis. Other factors may also come into play, such as:
- Lack of weight bearing exercise
- Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D
- Age-related endocrine dysfunctions
- Bone cancer
- Genetic disorders
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Lack of muscle use
- Medical conditions that limit normal activities
Read the Warning Signs!
Early in the course of the disease you may have no symptoms at all, or you may experience pain that you generally may not relate to osteoporosis, such as: occasional low back pain, neck pain, or generalized muscle aches. The discomfort may come and go, but as time goes on, the pain becomes more uncomfortable and regular.
As the disease progresses, the dull or generalized pain may become sharp and occur suddenly. You may notice activities that put stress, strain, or additional weight on an area may be painful. Instead of the fleeting pain, it may take up to a week for the discomfort to subside, or in advancing cases perhaps up to three months or more.
Fractures (broken bones) can occur without a fall. These may be seen in the spine (spinal compression fractures) resulting in a hunched or stooped posture. Fractures to the hips, arms, and bones of the wrist usually are the result of falls. Over time you may notice that you are not as tall as you were in your younger years; you begin to lose height.
By learning about Osteoporosis now, you are well on your way to a healthier life-style in your senior years. You should look into your family history and consult your healthcare provider to determine if you have or are at risk of getting Osteoporosis. You should also develop a health plan to help fight the affects of osteoporosis and remember, it is never too late to improve your bone health, regardless of age.
To determine whether you have osteoporosis or may be at risk, your healthcare provider will start with a detailed history and physical. You will be asked questions about other medical conditions you have as well as questions about your lifestyle.
You may also be scheduled for tests that measure bone density in different areas of the body.The procedure is painless, safe, and non-invasive. It can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs, predict future fractures, and determine the rate of bone loss. These tests may be used to monitor the effects of osteoporosis treatment and are usually done at one to two year intervals.
You will increase the strength of your bones by eating a well balanced diet with adequate calcium (1000mg daily) is recommended. For those 50 years of age and older, 1200mg daily is recommended. A calcium supplement enriched with vitamin D is usually preferred.
- Cottage Cheese
- Sardines (canned) with bones
- Salmon (canned) with bones
- Dried beans
- Calcium fortified orange juice, cereals and breads
To reduce your risk of getting Osteoporosis you should perform weight-bearing exercises like walking or light aerobics. However, if you are in danger of bone fractures, omit any exercises that put undue stress or pressure on suspect bones and joints. Participating in physical activity regularly will improve your bone health. It has been shown that women who walk one mile each day have 5-7 more years of bone in reserve than women who do not. Before adopting an exercise program consult with your healthcare provider to determine which exercise program that is right for you.
If you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis, the most important objective is to slow or stop the progression of the disease. Preventing bone fractures is vital. Approximately 40% of women will experience a bone fracture in their lifetime. If a woman experiences a back fracture (vertebral fracture), it is estimated that there is a 20% chance that she will suffer from another fracture within one year and this condition will lead to other fractures. If you are a menopausal or postmenopausal woman, contact your healthcare provider to learn about HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy).
HRT is not for everyone, but research and medical advances have supplied us with more choices than ever before. HRT can be used to treat both the symptoms of menopause (hot flushes, sweating, and heart palpitations) and osteoporosis. For example, Estrogen has been shown to increase skeletal mass and reduce the incidence of bone fractures. However, with proper treatment, the progression of the disease can be slowed if not stopped.
Your health lies within your hands. It is important that you eat right, stay active, and prepare a prevention plan with your doctor to ensure healthy bones as you age.
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