What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that leads the bones to reduce in density and mass. This means that the bones become weakened and brittle and more likely to break. Sometimes bones become so brittle that even mild stress on them, such as coughing or changing position, can cause a fracture. These fractures related to osteoporosis are most likely to occur in the spine, wrist, or hip.
More than half (55%) of the American population 50 years old or older is affected by osteoporosis. Over three-fourths of these are women. Worldwide, it is estimated that one out of every three women and one out of every 12 men who are at least 50 years old have osteoporosis. This disease causes millions of fractures each year. Most of these occur in the lower spine, the wrist, and the hip. Fractures of the ribs due to osteoporosis also occur commonly in men.
Some factors that increase your osteoporosis development risk are out of your control. These include:
- Gender: If you are a woman, you are more likely than a man to develop osteoporosis.
- Age: Your osteoporosis risks increase with your age.
- Race: If you are Caucasian or of Asian descent, you are at greater risk of the disease than other races.
- Family history: If you have a sibling or a parent with osteoporosis, especially if you also have a history of hip fractures in your family, you are at an increased osteoporosis risk.
- Frame structure: People with small frames tend to be at increased osteoporosis risk, both women and men because there is less bone tissue for the body to draw from as a resource during the aging process.
Hormone levels also have a lot to say about osteoporosis, and this is a risk factor that is beyond our control when it occurs. In some cases, medication is available to correct hormonal dysfunction. Examples of hormones that can affect osteoporosis risks include:
- Sexual hormones: The reduction in estrogen production at the time of menopause dramatically increases a woman’s risk for osteoporosis. Specific cancer therapies may also decrease estrogen production. Testosterone levels decrease as men age, and certain prostate cancer treatments may also lower the level of this sex hormone. Reduced levels of sexual hormones weaken bone tissue leading to osteoporosis.
- Thyroid hormones: An excess of the hormone produced by the thyroid or by taking too much medication to correct a thyroid deficiency can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis due to bone loss.
- Other hormones: Hormones produced by other glands have also been associated with an increased chance of osteoporosis. These glands include the adrenal and the parathyroid glands.
Your osteoporosis risk is increased if not enough calcium is available to produce and replace bone mass. Low calcium levels are more likely to occur in people who have:
- A calcium-poor diet: Without adequate calcium, bone density diminishes, and early bone loss occurs, which leads to osteoporosis. A diet lacking in calcium throughout life plays a significant role in this.
- Eating disorders: A reduced intake of food like is found in anorexia can decrease the amount of calcium intake. Anorexia can also stop the menstrual cycle in women, leading to early bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Gastrointestinal surgery: When weight loss surgery to limit the surface area of the stomach or the removal of part of the intestine is required, fewer nutrients such as calcium are available to be absorbed. This can increase the risk for osteoporosis.
Certain medications interfere with the way the body rebuilds bone tissue. The use of these increases the chance of developing osteoporosis. Some of these include corticosteroids when they are used long-term. Examples of corticosteroids include cortisone and prednisone. The disease has also been linked to medications used to treat or to prevent:
- Rejection of transplanted organs
- Epigastric reflux
Some lifestyle factors and behaviors are associated with an increased chance of developing osteoporosis. Examples of these include:
- Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to be especially helpful for creating and maintaining healthy bones, for example, running, walking, dancing, and weight-lifting.
- Excessive use of alcohol: More than two alcoholic drinks per day on a regular basis has been associated with an increased osteoporosis risk. This may be due to decreased calcium absorption in the presence of alcohol.
- Smoking and tobacco use: While it is not known exactly why, it is known that the use of tobacco leads to the weakening of bones and osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a polyetiological condition, this means it can be caused by a number of different conditions. Some of the conditions that may cause osteoporosis include:
- Hormone imbalances or deficiencies
- A lack of calcium
- A lack of vitamin D
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Other medical conditions like thyroid disease or certain digestive disorders
- Tobacco use
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- The use of certain medications
- There is also a genetic risk factor that has been linked to the development of osteoporosis
There are four osteoporosis types: primary, secondary, osteogenesis imperfecta, and idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis. The severity of your symptoms and the appropriate treatment depend on your osteoporosis type.
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