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HomeHealth A-Z Osteoporosis
For those that are at risk of developing osteoporosis, doctors usually like to treat patients with vitamin D as well as calcium.



Definition of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by a gradual softening of the bones making them more fragile. It is caused by the gradual loss of the mineral calcium, which helps strengthen the bones.

Description of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that affects the bone mineral density. More specifically, the bone mineral density is reduced and the actual structure is changed in addition to the proteins in the bone. Because of the affects on the bone, those affected with osteoporosis are at a higher risk of bone fracture.

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects more women than men and is known to affect women after menopause. Every year it seems as though there are more and more people diagnosed with this destructive disease. Because of knowledge about prevention the rates of diagnosis should go down as well as the amount of pain and fracture associated with the disease with new treatments being introduced to the public all the time. To date one in three women and one in 12 men have osteoporosis. The condition is responsible for many millions of fractures each year the world over.

Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoporosis

Hormones play a big part in the development of osteoporosis, meaning women after menopause are at great risk of suffering from the disease. This is not to say that men cannot be diagnosed with osteoporosis, but generally the disease is associated with women more often than men. In addition to being caused by hormonal conditions such as menopause, the condition is also thought to be caused by smoking, taking certain medications, and may also accompany other diseases. The actual cause of the disease is an imbalance between bone resportion and bone formation. One of the other is in excess and this means that a bone cannot heal itself correctly, which over time leads to bones that cannot deal with stress, even of minimal proportions, causing fractures.

There are many risk factors for the disease including a family history, being female, and being of advanced age. In addition those that are of Asian or Caucasian are more likely to develop the condition. Individuals who take glucocortioid medications for long periods of time, smoke tobacco or have a low body mass are more likely than others to develop osteoporosis.

Other conditions that put one at risk of developing osteoporosis are estrogen deficiencies, menopause before the age of 45, ovarian failure, low calcium levels, alcoholism, and those that are generally of poor health. Those that drink soda often are also more likely to suffer from osteoporosis because these drinks often replace the vitamin rich drinks such as milk that one might not drink if soda is on hand.

Weight and exercise can also play a vital role in who does or not develop osteoporosis. If one gains weight and cannot exercise but has some other factors that predispose them to the disease they are very likely to develop the disease. Carrying excess weight around when you are likely to suffer from factures from simple falls is very dangerous and happens quite often, unfortunately.

Some of the medical conditions that often accompany osteoporosis are Turner Syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, anorexia, Cushing’s syndrome, type one diabetes, and adrenal insufficiency. Osteoporosis may also affect those that suffer from malnutrition, parenteral nutrition, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lymphoma, leukemia, mastocystosis, hemophilia, and thalassemia.

There are some inherited conditions that also are seen a lot in people who are diagnosed with osteoporosis. Some of these conditions are Marfan syndrome, hemochromatosis, glygogen storage diseases, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and epidermolysis bullosa.

In addition to medical conditions that are associated with osteoporosis there are many medications that can contribute to the development of the condition. As mentioned above, glucocorticoids taken over long periods of time can cause problems with the bones, as can barbiturates because they require the body to use more Vitamin D than is necessary. In addition some anti-seizure drugs may also contribute to the development of the illness.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

One of the biggest symptoms of osteoporosis is a fracture that occurs with very little stress that would typically not occur in someone who did not have osteoporosis. Many times there is a collapse of the vertebra, back pain, a hunched back, and loss of height, and severely limited mobility that keeps the individual from doing what they want or need to do. Many times osteoporosis is not evident to the individual until they fracture one of the large bones in the body with relative ease. Many of these large fractures require surgery and can cause serious complications such as pulmonary embolisms or even deep vein thrombosis.

Diagnosis of Osteoporosis

The most common way to diagnose osteoporosis is through dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, more commonly known as DXA. A medical professional can determine that a patient has the condition if they have a bone mineral density of less than or equal to 2.5 standard deviations compared to a young adult reference population. This is known as a T-score to those in the medical field and a T-score of -1.0 or more is considered to be normal. A T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 is considered to be osteopenia or low bone mass and anything lower than that is diagnosed as osteoporosis. Doctors differentiate between primary and secondary osteoporosis. Blood tests are usually done to determine what type of osteoporosis each individual is suffering from.

Treatment of Osteoporosis

For those that are at risk of developing the disease, doctors usually like to treat patients with vitamin D as well as calcium. This will help to build up the bones and hopefully protect them from any medications or conditions that deplete the system of these essential vitamins. For those that have the condition there are several products on the market today such as Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva. There are also drugs that can be taken to help prevent the disease from occurring such as Evista and or even estrogen replacement products. New drugs are being tested all the time, and many of them are successfully relieving any pain, disfiguration, and fracture potential for those that are afflicted. Of course, exercising and keeping the body moving is an essential part of any treatment plan as it forces the bones to grow and strengthen, regardless of age.

Prevention of Osteoporosis

The prevention of osteoporosis is all in knowing and understanding what the risk factors are and ensuring that your diet and lifestyle will lend itself to not developing the disease. Screening over the age of 65 can help patients determine what their bone density is so they can take precautions before the disease can take hold, especially with so many medications on the market that can help the disease from advancing or developing at all. Eating right, taking vitamins, and exercising and being aware of risk conditions can help limit the effects of osteoporosis on people now as well as in the future.

External Resources

National Osteoporosis Foundation

NIH Senior Health

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