Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. About 10 million people in the United States deal with its effects and one out of five women over the age of 50 is diagnosed with the disease. It is characterized by the loss of bone mineral density and mass, making bones brittle and weak.
Bone tissue is formed by osteoblasts, or bone cells that release minerals – namely calcium, phosphate and magnesium – and then form bone mineral. This material regenerates over time in a process called remodeling. Bone cells are cyclically created by osteoblasts and resorbed by osteoclasts, or cells that breakdown bone material in the body. As people age, the body slows its production of bone, or begins to resorb bone faster than it can reproduce. This discrepancy leads to weakened bones that are susceptible to fracturing. Breakage from osteoporosis occurs frequently in the wrist, hips and spine. Sneezing, picking up a heavy item, falling or bumping into furniture can easily cause a fracture in serious cases.
Osteoporosis results mainly by getting older. The bones of the body lose mass gradually over time. This is usually caused by the lower levels of estrogen in women by the time they reach menopause, and lower levels of testosterone in men as they age. People who are small-framed and thin with a low body weight may also be more susceptible to developing the condition. Additionally, dealing with the effects of kidney and eating disorders, or taking anti-seizure drugs or steroids for longer than three months, all can contribute to the development of the disease.
Symptoms often do not present during the early stages of osteoporosis but will typically manifest in later stages in the form of height loss, a stooped or hunched over posture and bone pain. Neck and lower back pain also may develop, as bones can fracture easily and fragments may impinge upon the spinal cord or nerve roots. Pain at the site of impingement and radiating pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the extremities may occur as a result.
Preventive steps can be taken to prolong the onset of the osteoporosis. Your physician may recommend increasing your intake of calcium. Vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of calcium, may also be suggested. A carefully planned diet may provide the appropriate amounts of these minerals, as well as protein. Eating foods such as leafy greens, tofu, cheese and salmon may help achieve this. Other lifestyle changes include limiting the intake of alcohol, quitting smoking and performing regular, weight-bearing exercises. Your physician may also prescribe anti-resorptive medicines, such as biophosphonates, which slow the resorption of bone and attempt to balance the remodeling process. Furthermore, the use of back braces and pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory or opioid drugs, may alleviate pain in people dealing with vertebral fractures and nerve impingement.