Osteoporosis affects more than 28 million men and women in the United States. Often referred to as "fragile bone disease", it is characterized by a loss of bone density that leaves bones weak and at increased risk of fracturing. Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million hip, vertebral, and wrist factures every year. If left untreated, osteoporosis can result in a loss of height, stooped posture, kyphosis (humpback), and chronic pain.
What causes osteoporosis?
The main cause of osteoporosis is a deficiency in important bone-building nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. However, there are additional risk factors that can increase the likelihood of getting osteoporosis. These include:
- Gender. Women are at higher risk than men due to the fact that women generally have less bone mass than men, hormonal changes during menopause deplete bone density, and women live longer than men. However, men can get osteoporosis too. In fact, almost 2 million men in the U.S. have osteoporosis and another 3 million are at risk.
- Race. Asian and Caucasian women, especially small boned women, are at highest risk for osteoporosis.
Family history. Osteoporosis runs in families, primarily through the mother. Although just because your mother had osteoporosis, does not mean you are doomed to have it too.
- Lifestyle. Certain lifestyle choices such as poor diet, smoking, excessive alcoholic intake, and inactivity can greatly contribute to the risk of osteoporosis.
- Other causes. Certain medications and metabolic disorders can also contribute to osteoporosis such as Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and hyperparathyroidism. Also, there are gastrointestinal disorders that can affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium. In some cases, the osteoporosis is called "idiopathic", meaning the cause is unknown.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Osteoporosis is usually diagnosed using a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test. This test, also referred to as bone densitometry, is an important diagnostic tool that not only measures the amount of calcium in your bones, but also can be used to estimate the risk of fracture. The test is easy, fast, painless, and non-invasive. Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or DEXA is the most common method used to measure bone density and can detect even a 1% loss of bone mass. QCT or Quantitative Computed Tomography is also extremely accurate in measuring bone density but is not as widely available as DEXA.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to keep your bones healthy and strong by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise, and avoiding unhealthy activities such as smoking and excessive use of alcohol. You might also want to consider taking nutritional supplements to make sure you are getting the correct amounts of bone-strengthening vitamins and minerals. The following is a list of the most important vitamins and minerals in the prevention of osteoporosis:
Calcium - This is one of the most important minerals involved in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Adequate amounts of calcium in your diet can help reduce bone loss by 30 - 50 percent!
Magnesium - This mineral works closely with calcium so it is important to maintain appropriate levels of both in order for them to be effective.
Vitamin D - Helps the body absorb calcium and helps with bone formation. When taken along with calcium, Vitamin D plays a critical role in maintaining bone density.
Vitamin K - Helps promote strong bones by binding calcium and other minerals to the bone.
Vitamin C - This vitamin is not only an important immunity booster, but it also helps increase bone density.
Trace elements such as boron, silicon, zinc and copper, taken in the correct amounts, also play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis.
When bones become fragile as a result of osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures can occur. Compression fractures occur when the vertebrae collapse, decreasing the space between them by 15-20%. This compression causes chronic back pain, loss of height (why many older people seem to shrink as they age), kyphosis (or "humpback"), loss of balance (which increases the risk of falling), and sometimes neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Most cases of compression fractures can be treated using pain medication, bed rest, or bracing. However, in severe cases, surgery may be necessary. We offer two new and therapeutic and preventive treatments for compression fractures called Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty. In these procedures, orthopedic cement is injected into the space between the vertebrae returning the vertebral space to its original height. These procedures can not only restore height and relieve pain, they can prevent future factures by strengthening other vertebral bodies that are weakened but not yet fractured. Keep in mind, though, that these procedures are not appropriate for everyone. If you have a compression fracture, you will meet with your spine surgeon to see what treatment options are best suited for your condition.
Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are a variety of medications available that can help strengthen bones and increase their density. Currently, bisphosphonates (alendronate and risedronate), calcitonin, estrogens, parathyroid hormone and raloxifene are approved by the FDA for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis. If medications are needed, our medical staff will talk to you about which medication is best for you, including when to take it, how much to take, and any side effects it may have.
Prevention is the key
The most important thing to keep in mind is that osteoporosis can be prevented by keeping bones healthy. It’s never too early or too late to adopt healthy habits that will help keep your bones strong. We care about your health, and we can talk to you about how to improve your health and prevent osteoporosis from progressing.
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