Your Osteoporosis Questions Have Answers

Derived from the Greek words for “bone” and “pore,” osteoporosis is a progressive condition where the bone starts to lose density, mass and strength. In some cases, the bones can be so thin that they break without much exertion. Some osteoporotic bones break for what seems like no reason. Osteoporosis affects both sexes but is more common in women. This is because men’s bones are denser than women’s in the first place, and women start to lose bone density after menopause when their estrogen levels fall. Estrogen is a hormone that helps the body replace bone that has broken down and been resorbed. The body is always rebuilding and breaking down bone, and bone is at its densest and strongest when the person is in their 20s and early 30s. Osteoporosis can happen when the body breaks down bone faster than it can be rebuilt.

The symptoms of osteoporosis may be silent. It usually does not cause pain until the person has a fracture. Even then, the pain from a fracture may be mild and may end when the bone heals. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of bone fractures among elderly people. Bones involved are most often the hip, the spine, the wrist and the arm.

More Information About Osteoporosis

Not all women have the same risk of osteoporosis. Women who are at increased risk are usually white or Asian and petite. They may also have gone through an early menopause. This can happen naturally or because of surgery to remove the ovaries. Other people who are at higher risk for osteoporosis are alcoholics, anorexics and people who suffer from hyperthyroidism. Chemotherapy can lead to osteoporosis, as can proton pump inhibitors, SSRI antidepressants and drugs to control seizures. People who are sedentary and do not exercise are more at risk, as are smokers.

Not only does advancing age itself put some people at higher risk of osteoporosis, but so can the infirmities that come with it. These include visual problems such as macular degeneration, problems with balance or mobility and dementia. Some older people are prone to collapsing, possibly because of arrhythmias or blood pressure that suddenly drops when they stand up.

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are modifiable while others are not. The factors that can’t be modified are older age and being a woman of a certain body type and ethnic group. Some people have a family history of osteoporosis. People who have already suffered a fracture are likely to suffer another.

Factors that are modifiable are to cut down on alcohol if the person is a heavy drinker. Interestingly, moderate alcohol consumption seems to build bone density. Osteoporosis can also be eased by getting enough vitamin D, which tends to be deficient in older people. Smokers need to give up smoking if they smoke.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is osteoporosis curable?

A: Osteoporosis is not curable as of 2019, but it can be stopped or even reversed in some cases with the right treatment.

Q: What is a bone mineral density test and should I get one?

A bone mineral density test is a type of X-ray that measures the calcium and other minerals in the bone. The doctor orders the test if they think the patient has osteoporosis or if they’re at the age where osteoporosis is a worry. The test is painless, and all the patient does is lie on the treatment table while their bones are scanned.

Q: What can a person do to avoid or relieve osteoporosis?

Besides cutting down on alcohol and stopping smoking, the person needs to maintain a healthy diet. This means getting enough of the antioxidant vitamins as well as vitamin D and to perhaps cut down on animal protein, which might lower bone density. People who are underweight and sedentary are also more prone to osteoporosis. People who are overweight are less prone to it. People should also avoid ingesting heavy metals and too many soft drinks. Soft drinks can actually bubble the calcium out of the bones.

Q: What is the effect of exercise on osteoporosis?

A: Exercises that build strength also help avoid or ease osteoporosis, for the bone becomes stronger as it is put under some stress. However, too much endurance training can negatively affect bone density. This is especially seen in female athletes who may train and perform so much that they stop menstruating.

Q: What drugs treat osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis responds well to some drugs, especially if the person has already had a fracture. Other people, especially women, benefit from specific hormones.

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