Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by increasing bone loss which can lead to fractures, height loss and a hump-backed appearance. One in two women, and one in five men, over the age of 65 will suffer at least one bone fracture due to osteoporosis.
The most serious risk for people with osteoporosis is hip fracture following a fall. But osteoporotic bones are so weak that it doesn’t always require a fall to cause injury – even everyday activities can result in a fracture. Spinal compression fractures, for example, are the most common osteoporosis-related injury and can be triggered simply by bending over.
A diagnosis of osteoporosis is made after a complete medical history, physical examination and laboratory tests including X-rays and bone densitometry. Other possible causes of bone loss must be ruled out as well. Lost bone cannot be replaced, but your doctor will work with you to prevent further weakening. The treatment plan may include exercise, diet changes, hormone therapy with estrogen (ERT) or anti-estrogens (SERMs), or bone-preserving medications such as Calcitonin or Alendronate.
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include age and sex (post-menopausal women are at the highest risk), heredity (family history, slender build, fair skin), nutrition, sedentary life, medications (bone thinners, steroids) and illnesses. Everyone reaches a peak bone density at about age 20-25; after age 35, our bones lose mass and weaken unless we take action.
Osteoporosis is not curable, but it is preventable. You can maintain your bones’ health at any age by eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercising, not smoking, and limiting alcohol. Regular bone density testing can detect osteoporosis early, before you suffer a fracture.