Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes weak, thinning bones. This leaves the bones at greater risk of breaking. The bones most often affected are the hips, spine, and wrists.

What causes osteoporosis?

The exact cause for osteoporosis is unknown. But a number of factors contribute to the disease including:

  • Aging. Bones become less dense and weaker with age.
  • Race. White and Asian women are most at risk. But, all races may get the disease.
  • Body weight. People who weigh less and have less muscle are more at risk for this condition.
  • Lifestyle factors. Lack of physical activity, caffeine use, excessive alcohol use, smoking, dietary calcium, and vitamin D deficiency may all increase your risk.
  • Certain medicines. Some medicines may increase your risk.
  • Family history. Having a family history of bone disease may increase your risk.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects over 10 million Americans over the age of 50. Women are 4 times more likely to get osteoporosis than men.

Another 34 million Americans older than age 50 have low bone mass (osteopenia). This group is at a greater risk for osteoporosis.

Low estrogen is one of the main causes of bone loss in women during and after menopause. Women may lose up to 20% of their bone mass in the 5 to 7 years after menopause.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

People with osteoporosis may not get any symptoms. Some may have pain in their bones and muscles, particularly in their back. Sometimes, a collapsed vertebra may cause severe pain, decrease in height, or spinal deformity.

The symptoms of osteoporosis may look like other bone disorders or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. Other tests include:

  • Bone density test (bone densitometry). Measurement of the mass of bone in relation to its volume to find the risk of getting osteoporosis.
  • Blood tests. These tests are done to measure calcium and potassium levels.
  • FRAX score. A score given to estimate the risk of a fracture within 10 years. The score uses the results of a bone density test as well as other factors.
  • X-rays. This test uses electromagnetic energy beams to make images of tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Women are encouraged to do the following:

  • Review lifestyle practices with their healthcare providers regularly.
  • Have their personal risk for falls checked at least once a year after menopause.
  • Have their height and weight checked yearly.
  • Get checked for the development of a rounded humped in the spine and back pain (kyphosis).