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Osteoporosis: Prevention and Treatment

by Julia McCartney on April 30, 2012

The word osteoporosis is the combination of two Greek words: ostoun, which means “bone,” and “poro,” which means “pore.” Put together, the term means “porous bone,” and it refers to the weak, brittle condition of the bones in people who suffer from this condition. With osteoporosis, the rate at which a person’s bone tissue depletes outpaces the rate at which it is replenished. By learning about the symptoms of the disease, you may be able to recognize its onset more easily. By learning about ways to prevent it, you may be able to avoid developing it altogether.

Common Symptoms of Osteoporosis

The symptoms of osteoporosis don’t usually become apparent until the disease is at a more advanced stage. In the beginning, a person may begin to experience back pain, which is usually caused by collapsed or fractured vertebrae. Posture may become noticeably stooped, and a person’s height may decrease. The most noticeable and alarming symptom is experiencing bone fractures much too readily. If you fracture a bone while not engaging in some sort of strenuous or dangerous activity, it could be a sign that you have developed osteoporosis.

Risk Factors

The preceding symptoms should be taken even more seriously if you have any of the common risk factors for osteoporosis. This disease is especially common in white and Asian women, although men and people of other races can also develop it. According to studies, approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women are at an increased risk of developing the disease due to the drop in estrogen levels that typically occurs at that time. Because peak bone mass is achieved in young adulthood, osteoporosis is most likely to develop during a person’s fifties, sixties or seventies.

Causes

In addition to the preceding risk factors, many things can contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Genetics appear to play a role because osteoporosis tends to run in families. If you have relatives with the disease, you’re more likely to develop it as well. People with small frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Low estrogen levels and low testosterone levels are often to blame, but excessive thyroid hormones can contribute to the problem too. Eating disorders and low calcium intakes early in life can lead to osteoporosis later in life. People who undergo weight loss surgery are more likely to develop the disease as well. People who smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol are at increased risk, as are those who have sedentary lifestyles.

Tests

If you suspect that you have osteoporosis, you should make an appointment with your doctor. The definitive test for determining whether or not a person has osteoporosis is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. It is a completely painless procedure, and it assesses the bone density of the hips, wrists and spine, which are usually the areas that are the most affected by the disease.

Questions to Ask

During your appointment, make sure to ask plenty of questions. Your doctor should be ready to answer them. Good questions to ask include:

  • What kinds of tests are you going to perform?
  • What types of treatments do you recommend?
  • Are there any side effects associated with the recommended treatments?
  • Are there any supplements that I can take that will help?
  • What types of activities should I avoid?
  • What types of exercises are safe for me to do?

Prevention

It’s much better to avoid developing osteoporosis altogether than to have to live with it and treat it. Maintaining an active lifestyle is one way to ward off the disease. Having a healthy, calcium-rich diet is another great way to keep it at bay. There are also dietary supplements on the market that are specifically designed to enhance bone health. If you smoke, you should quit. If you drink excessive amounts of alcohol, you should cut back a lot.

There are certain things that you can’t change that may lead to osteoporosis. Being female, Asian, white and small-framed can all contribute to the development of the disease. After menopause, the drop in hormone levels can bring on the condition as well. By having regular checkups during such times, you may be able to detect early warning signs so that you can treat the disease more effectively.

Treatments

There are many different options when it comes to treating osteoporosis. A class of drugs known as bisphosphonates is commonly used to treat the disease. They are offered in many different configurations, and they are marketed under many different brand names. If your doctor prescribes one to you, make sure to check and see if generic versions are available. You may be able to save a lot of money by using a generic version instead. Furthermore, you can avoid many common side effects by opting for monthly or quarterly injections instead of pills.

If it is determined that low estrogen levels are to blame, estrogen therapy may be used to fight back against the disease. Similarly, if a drop in testosterone levels is determined to be at fault, testosterone replacement therapy may be used to treat the condition.

Finally, your doctor will advise you to quit smoking if you currently do. He will also recommend cutting back on your consumption of alcohol. Finally, you will be advised to take certain steps and precautions to avoid falls. When your bones are weak and brittle, even a small fall can result in debilitating injuries.

While it’s not something that anyone wants to endure, osteoporosis is treatable. In many cases, it is also preventable. By taking the right steps early in life, you may be able to avoid developing it altogether. Even if you are getting older, small lifestyle changes can minimize your risk. Those changes can also improve your overall health, so try to implement them if you can.

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