Osteoporosis and bone loss.


 

Early diagnosis can make a difference.


 

Understanding osteoporosis.

Throughout life, our bodies go through continuous bone-building cycles, in which old bone is broken down and new bone is formed. Osteoporosis is caused by an imbalance in these cycles where more bone is broken down than is replaced. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become more porous, gradually making them weaker and more brittle.

Today, an estimated 28 million Americans have osteoporosis–80 percent are women. Yet, only a relatively small number of women with osteoporosis have been diagnosed or treated.

Why is this? Because, early on, osteoporosis is a silent disease, which means you may not see any signs. Also, many women believe that if they simply watch their diet and exercise regularly, they won't be affected.

Knowledge is key. The more you know about bone loss and your options in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, the better your chances of staying active and independent. This guide is designed to give you the basic facts about osteoporosis, as well as information about available tests.

Since everyone is different, you should talk to your doctor about your individual situation. The best way to help your doctor assess whether you have low bone density or osteoporosis, and are at risk for breaking a bone from minor injury, is to have a Bone Density Test.

 

Normal bone is dense and strong.

 

Osteoporotic bone has thinned out.

"Osteo" means bone; "porosis" means porous.

 

Ask your doctor about Bone Density Testing.

Because, early on, osteoporosis is silent, you may not know your bones are getting weak. A Bone Density Test is a way to help your doctor diagnose osteoporosis. It may also be used to monitor your rate of bone loss and response to therapy.

Several types of Bone Density Tests are available. A few tests use sound waves. Others use small amounts of radiation to determine the thickness or density of bones. Bone Density Tests are simple, safe, and painless. And most tests take just a few minutes.

Test results, referred to as T-scores, compare your bone density with that of normal, young adult women. A normal T-score is –1 or higher. Bones weakened by osteoporosis have become thin, making them more likely to break. If your T-score is below normal, you may benefit from therapy.

Being tested is a good way to help determine if you have or are at risk for developing osteoporosis. Ask your doctor if you should have a Bone Density Test and whether a medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis might be right for you.

Who is at risk for developing osteoporosis?

Women who have gone through menopause are at risk. Menopause usually begins when a woman is about 50, though it can occur earlier–for example, if a woman has surgery to remove her ovaries.

Other factors that may contribute to risk include:

Heredity

  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • A thin or petite build
  • Caucasian or Asian descent (these groups are at greater risk, although osteoporosis can affect women of all ethnic backgrounds)

Decreased estrogen levels

  • During or after menopause

Medications

  • Steroids
  • Excess thyroid hormone

Lifestyle

  • Smoking
  • Too much caffeine
  • Too much alcohol
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Inadequate calcium and vitamin D (e.g., little or no milk or dairy products in diet)

Over time, as your bones become thinner and weaker, you may experience:

  • Height loss
  • Certain types of back pain
  • An upper back that is curved forward
  • Breaking a bone in your hip, wrist, or spine
Remember:

Menopause is a key factor contributing to the development of osteoporosis. Even if none of these other factors applies to you, you may still have or develop osteoporosis if you're a woman past menopause.

Weakened bones can break.

In the early stages of osteoporosis, you may have no physical signs. However, as the disease progresses, you could break a bone from a minor injury, especially in the hip, wrist, or spine.

Bones that are weakened from osteoporosis are more likely to break. A bad fall or excessive strain on your back can increase your risk for broken bones.  This can lead to pain, height loss, restricted mobility, or a humped back (also known as "dowager’s hump"). Along with these physical effects, osteoporosis can lead to feelings of helplessness, lack of confidence, or loss of independence. But there are ways to combat the effects of osteoporosis.

You can protect yourself.

In addition to having a Bone Density Test and knowing your T-score, you can protect yourself from the dangers of osteoporosis by taking these steps:

Get plenty of exercise.

You can help protect your bones against fractures by exercising and doing other physical activities. Exercises that increase muscle strength and improve flexibility help prevent falls.

Make sure your diet has enough calcium and vitamin D.

Your body needs calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong. The best source of calcium is food. If you can't get enough calcium from food, you can take supplements.

Prevent accidents by living safely.

With osteoporosis, you need to learn how to live safely to prevent falls and back injury. Make your home safe by getting rid of hazards. Use caution when lifting, bending, or reaching.

Get a Bone Density Test.

You may not know that your bones are getting weak. The best way for your doctor to determine if you have low bone density or osteoporosis, and are at increased risk for breaking a bone, is to have a Bone Density Test.

Talk to your doctor.

Ask your doctor whether a medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis might be right for you.

Taking action.

All women should know about bone loss and osteoporosis. Nearly one in every two women over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her remaining lifetime. However, there are things you can do throughout life to help keep your bones strong.

Diet and exercise can help. And calcium with vitamin D is important, but it often isn't enough. Ask your doctor if you should have a Bone Density Test, and about treatment options to help keep your bones healthy and strong.