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Osteoporosis

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Literally translated, osteoporosis means porous bones, which affects the structure, strength, and integrity of bones. Bones afflicted with osteoporosis are subject to becoming brittle which break easily as well as hinder a patient’s ability to stand, walk, or be active for long periods of time. While the majority of cases involving osteoporosis involve women, men are far from immune to the disease. Age plays a factor in the development of osteoporosis but patients can be young as well.

OSTEOPOROSIS SYMPTOMS

The initial stages of osteoporosis present without symptoms. While the bone density weakens, there is no sign throughout the rest of the body that this process is occurring. Symptoms may appear later in disease and often include bones fractures, a reduction in height, and back pain which can range from annoying to debilitating.

OSTEOPOROSIS CAUSES

Osteoporosis is caused by poor bone density. A decrease in bone density is caused by a lack of calcium, phosphorus, and other chemicals and minerals required for bone strength. Bone is an evolving organ, and while the changes that occur to the skeletal system are slow to take place and unnoticeable to the patient, they are vital to the development or lack of development of osteoporosis. Low bone density can be caused by an insufficient intake of the appropriate vitamins and minerals throughout a lifetime, such as a poor intake of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D. Chronic use of certain medications can eventually lead to a loss of bone density. In women, menopause causes a decrease in the body’s production of estrogen which can also contribute to the decrease in bone density age the body ages. Patients with endocrine disorders often experience osteoporosis as a consequence.
Osteoporosis
Image: Osteoporosis

OSTEOPOROSIS RISK FACTOR

Risk factors for osteoporosis include increasing age, gender, height, race, the use of tobacco products, family history, and lifetime estrogen levels. Women who are either Caucasian or Southeast Asian are at the greatest risk. Patients who are thin or who have a small frame, as well as those who smoke are also at an increased risk for osteoporosis. Patients who have or have had an eating disorder are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as those who maintain healthy eating habits. The use of asthma medication, thyroid hormones, and corticosteroids and the use of other medications contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Breast cancer and medical conditions that lead to poor calcium absorption are significant risk factors as well as drinking either alcohol or soda excessively. Depression and a sedentary lifestyle can be contributing factors to the development of osteoporosis.

The very early stages of osteoporosis are known as a separate medical condition known as osteopenia. Osteopenia can be diagnosed before osteoporosis and refers to the beginning of bone loss. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are both typically diagnosed through imaging techniques such as x-rays, MRIs and bone scans in order to determine bone density, bone loss, and the bones’ ability to withstand pressure and stress. Women are encouraged to receive an osteoporosis screening if they are post menopausal and have not received estrogen treatments, or if they are postmenopausal and can apply at least one risk factor. Women over 65 years of age should be tested every five years. Women that are over the age of 35 and smoke, take prednisone on a regular basis, as well as those with diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, or have a family history of osteoporosis should have regular screenings as well. Patients who experience early menopause should receive a bone density test upon the completion of menopause.

OSTEOPOROSIS SIDE EFFECTS

The most common complication associated with osteoporosis includes bone fractures, which may simply be an inconvenience or may cause serious independence issues for elderly patients. Bones which support the patient’s weight such as spine, leg and hip bones are the most frequently fractured bones in a patient with osteoporosis. Over time, the bone loss can become debilitating, as might the fractures associated with the disease. Compression fractures (fractures which require no injury but break because the pressure of the patient’s weight is more than the bone can bear, even in thin women) can prove to be extraordinarily painful and can limit mobility.

OSTEOPOROSIS TREATMENT

Hormone therapy is usually the typical treatment prescribed for osteoporosis. However, many physicians are trying alternative approaches to hormone therapy. Lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in the lives of many patients. Changes such as increased physical activity, dietary changes, and supplemental alterations can help the bones regain their strength and use the appropriate nutrients for bone building. Medications the deal directly with calcium absorption and the elimination of pain are now emerging and are proving to be an asset to treatment.
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