Osteoporosis is a condition that affects 75 million people in the United States, Europe and Japan. While anyone can develop this condition, it tends to be more common in seniors. One in three women over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture.
The good news? You don’t have to suffer in silence. Understanding the causes and symptoms of osteoporosis is the first step.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Bones can become so brittle that coughing or bending over can cause a fracture.
When viewed under a microscope, healthy bones look like honeycombs. Osteoporosis widens the holes and spaces in the honeycomb, making them less dense and much weaker. Bones affected by osteoporosis also have abnormal tissue structure.
Osteoporosis breaks are more likely to occur in the spine, hip or wrist, but it’s possible for other bones to break.
Bone breaks and fractures aren’t the only concern with this disease. Over time, the condition can cause you to lose height. If osteoporosis affects the spine, it can lead to hunched or stooped posture causing you to have trouble walking or require you to use a walking aid.
Osteoporosis is a serious condition, and it can limit your mobility. Limited mobility can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Furthermore, seniors who break a hip are more likely to die within a year due to complications or the surgery to repair it.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Age is one of the main causes of osteoporosis. Our bones reach their peak mass in our early 20s. As we age, bone mass is lost at a faster rate than it’s created.
There are certain factors that put you at greater risk of developing this condition, including:
- Age: Seniors are at greater risk of developing this condition.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
- Body Frame: People with small body frames are at greater risk of developing this condition.
- Family History: If your parents, grandparents or siblings have osteoporosis, there’s a good chance that you will get it, too.
- Race: According to data, people of Asian and European decent are more likely to develop this condition.
People who have too much or too little of certain types of hormones are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
- Thyroid Issues: If you have too much thyroid hormone, you may experience bone loss. This can happen if you have an overactive thyroid or you take too much thyroid medication.
- Sex Hormones: Low levels of sex hormones can weaken bones. For women, low estrogen levels caused by menopause is one of the strongest risk factors of developing osteoporosis.
- Glands: Overactive adrenal and parathyroid glands can also cause osteoporosis.
Dietary and Lifestyle
Certain dietary habits will put you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, including:
- Gastrointestinal Surgery: Procedures that remove part of the intestines or reduce the size of your stomach will make it more difficult to absorb calcium. This puts you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Low Calcium Intake: Lack of calcium in the diet can also contribute to the onset of osteoporosis. Low calcium intake can lead to early bone loss, diminished bone density and an increased risk of bone fractures.
- Eating Disorders: Being underweight and reducing food intake can weaken bones.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Those who spend a lot of time sitting (like those who work desk jobs or remain inactive during retirement) are more likely to develop this bone condition.
Medication, Medical Conditions and Procedures
Certain medications and surgical procedures can also cause osteoporosis.
- Chemotherapeutic drugs
- Antacids with aluminum
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Zoladex and Lupron
- Aromatase inhibitors
- Antiseizure medications
Medical conditions and procedures:
- Breast and prostate cancers
- Celiac disease
- IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injuries
- Kidney disease
- Multiple myeloma
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Most people experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, but once the disease has progressed and bones have weakened, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Loss of height
- Back pain
- Stooped posture
- Bone fractures
What Can You Do about Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis can be diagnosed by your doctor through a bone density test. The test uses low levels of X-rays to determine the proportion of mineral to bone. To perform the test, a scanner passes over the body.
These tests typically only check a few bones, usually the wrist, hip or spine.
Treatment options are available. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment depending on your risk of breaking a bone in the next decade.
If your risk of breaking a bone is low, you may not be given medication. Instead, your doctor may focus on reducing the risk factors for bone loss and the risk of falling.
Medications are available to treat this condition. These include:
- Zoledronic acid
Medications can cause side effects, including heartburn-like symptoms, nausea and abdominal pain.
For women going through menopause, estrogen therapy can maintain bone density and prevent further weakening.
Other medications (less common ones) include:
If you haven’t been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you can make changes to your lifestyle and diet to help prevent the onset of this disease.
Preventative measures include:
Making changes to your diet can help prevent bone loss.
Protein plays an integral role in building bones. Vegans and vegetarians may not get enough protein to meet their body’s needs. Dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts and soy are all great non-meat sources of protein.
It’s also important to make sure that you’re getting enough calcium in your diet. Adults between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. This amount increases to 1,200 mg when men turn 70 and women turn 50.
Calcium-rich foods include:
- Dairy products
- Dark leafy greens
- Soy products
- Canned salmon
- Calcium-fortified orange juice and cereal
Calcium supplements are also an option, but talk to your doctor to make sure you choose an appropriate brand and dosage.
Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. This important vitamin also helps bones in other ways. Simply going for a daily walk can make a huge difference in your health.
Soaking up the sun is a great way to get vitamin D, but you can also take supplements to reach your recommended daily dose.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.