A clear description of osteoporosis, one that helps you understand what it is, if you are a risk and what to do about it, is what this page is all about.
While this website is dedicated to women over 50, this condition is not. It affects males and females of any age and any ethnic background. However being a woman gives you a three-in-one chance of developing osteoporosis in your lifetime.
So to begin our description of osteoporosis…
We achieve peak bone mass at 30 years of age. From then on we lose it unless we take action to prevent or reverse this process. Not taking action increases our risk of developing…
- Osteopenia: A condition where we have an abnormally low bone density (below normal range but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis).
- Osteoporosis: We have lost so much bone density that the bones have become porous, hence the name.
Signs and symptoms of osteoporosis? We don’t see or feel any of this happening. In fact many times you find out you have osteoporosis when a bone breaks, and by then your condition may be severe.
To deepen our description of osteoporosis, let’s look at these early warning signs…
- Loss of more than 1/2-1 inch of body height
- Loss of teeth – periodontal disease
- Hunched posture
- Back pain
- Protruding abdomen
How Can I Know For Sure If I Have Osteopenia Or Osteoporosis?
The best way to diagnose osteoporosis is to have a bone mineral density test. The most accurate test is called a DEXA scan. It’s recommended that women aged 65 and over be screened for osteoporosis. Women aged 60 – 64 should also be screened if they are in menopause and have at least one of the risk factors.
What Increases My Risk Of Getting Osteoporosis Or Osteopenia ?
We don’t yet know all the causes of osteoporosis or osteopenia. Here are some of the risk factors that increase your chances of developing these conditions…
- Having a close family member who has the disease (mother, father, sibling)
- Being Caucasian or Asian (the lighter your skin, the higher your risk)
- The beginning of your menstruation starting at 15 years of age or later
- Being underweight for your height (especially if you are tall)
- Being in menopause- natural or because of surgery
- Beginning menopause before age 45
- Being an over-exerciser
- Having a history of an eating disorder
- Being a yo-yo dieter
- High alcohol consumption
- Having a high protein diet
- Drinking more than 5 cups of caffeinated beverages per day
- Eating a low calcium and/or high sodium diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Certain medications – For questions about your medications check with your doctor or consult a physician who specializes in osteoporosis.
Knowing your risks and what you can do about them turns your description of osteoporosis into a call to action. While some of the things on this list are outside of your control (you can’t change your family history or your past) half of them are lifestyle induced and are within your control.
Which Of My Bones Are Most At Risk Of Breaking?
To further describe osteoporosis is to talk about the increased risk of fracture this disease poses. Here are the most commonly affected bones…
- The Spine The small, triangular shaped vertebrae of the spine are extremely susceptible to fractures when bone loss occurs. In someone with osteoporosis compression fractures of the spine can occur while doing simple things like lifting groceries or getting a hug.
- The Hip About 90 percent of hip fractures are caused by a fall,in the other 10 percent the bone breaks first causing the fall. Hip fractures almost always lead to surgery, be it a pinning of the fracture or a total hip replacement. One out of five people with hip fractures die within a year following their hip fracture.
- The Wrist These fractures usually occur due to a fall. We tend to reach out our arms instinctively to break a fall.
Any bone in the body can break due to osteoporosis, these are just some of the most common ones.
Taking Our Description Of Osteoporosis A Little Further…
Our bone is living tissue that is constantly re-building itself. Osteoclasts are bone cells responsible for dissolving old bone. Their partners in this bone remodeling process are the osteoblasts. Their job is to build new bone to replace the old.
So for a better description of osteoporosis we need to understand what affects the remodeling process of our bones…
- Estrogen It helps balance the process of removing old bone and replacing it with new. During menopause estrogen levels drop and the rate of removing old bone out paces the rate at which new bone is laid down.
- Nutrition Calcium and vitamin D help to preserve our bones. Smoking and consuming high levels of salt, colas and alcohol cause bone loss to accelerate.
- Physical Activity Research has shown that the largest major determinant of bone health is muscle contraction. As your muscles contract they stress the bones they’re attached to, causing those bones to strengthen.
What Can I Do To Help Myself?
What good would a description of osteoporosis be without knowing what to do about it? There is a lot you can do…
Lifestyle changes play a big roll in the treatment of both osteopenia and osteoporosis. In fact for those diagnosed with osteopenia, lifestyle changes may be all that is prescribed, while osteoporosis is treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle modification.
A healthy diet is crucial to maintaining healthy bones. Calcium is the most important mineral for bone mass. However most of us only absorb about 1/3 of the calcium we consume. Without Vitamin D, our bodies can’t use calcium properly. For bone-boosting recipes and tips go here.
Exercise, especially weight bearing exercises such as walking, dancing and stair climbing are good choices if done properly. Strength training exercises, especially site-specific ones that target the most susceptible bones, have been shown to decrease risk of fractures. But not all exercise is helpful. Some exercises are dangerous for women with osteoporosis. Learn which exercises are good for you and which ones to avoid.
Other lifestyle changes to consider…
- If you smoke, quit
- If you are suffering from fear or anxiety due to your diagnosis, beginning a safe exercise program and becoming stronger will help significantly. In addition… check out these ways to manage you stress.
Now that you have a thorough description of osteoporosis and the awareness of all that you can do for your bones, start today to support your bones. After all their job is to support you!
For help in choosing which exercises are good for you go to Best Exercises For Osteoporosis
For up to date, accurate information on osteoporosis, osteopenia and the latest treatments visit the website of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.