Osteoporosis is thinning of bone tissue when bones become stiff and therefore susceptible to breaking.
As people grow old, their bones become thinner and lighter. Around the age of 70, in most people the skeleton become three times lighter than at the age of 40. This lower bone density, or osteoporosis, is a consequence of imbalance between natural breakdown and substitution of bone tissue.
Osteoporosis occurs mostly in the hips, wrist or spine.
Osteoporosis is not painful until there is a fracture.
The early stages of osteoporosis doesn’t show symptoms. These are felt after the bones become weakened, as it follows:
- Back pain, due to a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height with age
- Much more easy bone fracture than expected
Bones grow in length between 16-18 years of age, but their density increases until the late 20s. The bone density starts losing from about 35 years of age. Women lose bone density rapidly after the menopause. Generally, it is an ageing process, although for some people it can lead to osteoporosis, which implies risk of fractures.
Beside age, other causes of osteoporosis are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- hyperthyroidism. hyperparathyroidism
- family history of osteoporosis
- long-term use of bone medications or for hormone levels
- malabsorption problems
- heavy drinking and smoking
The risk factors of osteoporosis include: lifestyle choices, medical conditions, and treatments.
You can’t control some of the risk factors such as:
- Sex – women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
- Age – the older you get, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
- Race. You're at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you're white or of Asian descent.
- Family history – in case a family member has osteoporosis
- Body frame size – small body frames tend to have a higher risk because of the less bone mass
- Sex hormones – lower sex hormone levels weaken the bones, for e.g. the estrogen levels at menopause or during certain cancer treatments; or for men, the lower testosterone level as they get older, or due to prostate cancer
- Thyroid problems – higher thyroid hormone can cause bone loss.
- Other glands – overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands
- Low calcium intake
- Eating disorders, in anorexia for example
- Gastrointestinal surgery, if the stomach size is reduced or stomach bypass
- Oral or injected corticosteroid medications, because they don’t help rebuilding the bones
Osteoporosis can occur in people who take medications for:
- Gastric reflux
- Transplant rejection
The most serious complication of osteoporosis is bone fractures, especially the hip or the spine. Hip fractures can result in disability and even death from postoperative complications, especially in older adults.
Spinal fractures, which may happen without a fall, can weaken so much that there could be back pain, lost height, and a hunched forward posture.
If you have any of the risk factrs, the prevention should be focused on regular exercise, intake of vitamin D and calcium, and lifestyle changes.