What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. It is characterized by the loss of bone mass, causing bones to become weak and brittle. Someone with osteoporosis is at a high risk of fractures, as bones may break from a minor fall or, in serious cases, even from simple actions, like sneezing or bumping into furniture.
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” If you look at healthy bone under a microscope, you will see that parts of it resemble a honeycomb. When viewing an osteoporotic bone, these holes and spaces in the honeycomb will appear larger and more pronounced than in healthy bone. These larger holes and spaces weaken the structural integrity of the bones and increase the risk of fractures.
What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is the precursor to osteoporosis. Like osteoporosis, it is defined as a loss of bone mass, but the loss is not yet severe enough to be considered osteoporosis. Simply put, someone with osteopenia is more likely to fracture a bone than someone with a normal bone density, but is less likely to fracture a bone than someone with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis—the Silent Disease
Osteoporosis has no visible symptoms, giving it the nickname the silent disease. You cannot feel your bones getting weaker. Breaking a bone is often the first sign of osteoporosis. You may also notice loss in height or more pronounced curvature in your upper back. If you are experiencing either height loss or curvature in the upper spine, be sure to talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional right away as the disease may be already be advanced.
- In 2014, The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) released updated prevalence data estimating that a total of 54 million U.S. adults age 50 and older are affected by osteoporosis and low bone mass.
- Osteoporosis affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide
- This disease causes an estimated 8.9 million fractures annually worldwide
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
- Gender: Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
- Age: Your risk of osteoporosis increases with age.
- Race: Those of Caucasian and Asian descent have a higher risk.
- Family history: Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if your mother or father experienced a hip fracture.
- Body frame size: Men and women who have small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.
- Sex hormones: Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone. The reduction of estrogen levels at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis.
- Thyroid problems: Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss.
- Other glands: Osteoporosis has also been associated with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.
- Low calcium intake: A lifelong lack of calcium plays a major role in the development of osteoporosis.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia and bulimia increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Gastrointestinal surgery: A reduction in the size of your stomach, a bypass or the removal of part of the intestine limits the amount of surface area available to absorb nutrients, including calcium.
- Steroids and other medications: Long-term use of oral or injected corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and cortisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process.
- Other risk factors include: Sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol, tobacco use.
Diagnosis of Osteoporosis
At UOA, we offer DXA scans for the diagnosis of osteopenia and osteoporosis. This includes an evaluation of results and follow-up with our UOA osteoporosis expert, Patricia Seuffert, MS, APN. We also offer a special class by appointment, Project Healthy Bones, to encourage bone strengthening and health through exercise.
UOA’s Diagnostic Testing Department is uniquely distinguished in the area of skeletal health. Patricia Seuffert, Research Coordinator and Nurse Practitioner at UOA, received the 2012 Professional Award presented by NJ’s Health and Senior Services and the NJ Interagency Council for Osteoporosis for her work on improving hip fracture management with hospitalized patients. In addition to Patricia’s credentials, UOA is one of only two International Society for Clinical Densitometry-accredited facilities in the state of New Jersey.
Healthy bones continuously break down and rebuild. As you age, and especially for women after menopause, bone loss accelerates. Because the rebuilding process cannot keep pace, bones deteriorate and become weaker.
Commonly prescribed osteoporosis medications are designed to slow the loss of bone mass. These drugs effectively maintain bone density and decrease the risk of breaking a bone as a result of osteoporosis.
Bisphosphonates are the most common medications prescribed for osteoporosis treatment. However, medication is only one aspect of effectively treating osteoporosis. At UOA, we counsel our patients in a variety of lifestyle measures. These include:
- Exercise: Weight-bearing physical activity and exercises that improve balance and posture can strengthen bones and reduce the chance of a fracture.
- Good nutrition: A healthy diet with a focus on calcium and vitamin D gives your body the materials it needs to strengthen bones.
- Quit smoking: Smoking cigarettes speeds up bone loss.
- Limit alcohol: If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Fractures from Osteoporosis
The risk for fragility fractures, those caused by weakened bones, increases with age, affecting up to one half of women and one third of men after age 50 years. While these fractures may occur at any site, the most common sites are the wrist, spine and hip.
Fractures caused by osteoporosis occur most frequently in the spine. These osteoporotic spinal fractures — called vertebral compression fractures — occur in nearly 700,000 patients each year. They are almost twice as common as other fractures typically linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists.
At UOA, we also manage fractures and traumatic injuries to the entire musculoskeletal system. Our trauma specialists are fellowship-trained orthopaedic trauma surgeons, which mean they have devoted their efforts to specialized training, giving them the highest qualifications to treat a wide range of trauma injuries with both surgical and non-surgical procedures.
For additional resources on osteoporosis and bone health, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website.