What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a clinical condition that is commonly called brittle bone syndrome. It is characterized by thinning of the bones that makes them vulnerable and easy to fracture.
Osteoporosis is a phenomenon that is seen as individuals get older. It is particularly common in women and begins to set in after the age of 35.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is an age-related condition. Our bones remain fairly strong until be done 35, following which the density of the bones starts to reduce. In women, osteoporosis is more prevalent after menopause has occurred. This is because the hormone estrogen has a protective effect, and this protective effect disappears once menopause takes place. In men, it is believed to be due to a reduction in the levels of testosterone though this is not strongly proven. It is estimated that every year, 0.3 to 0.5% of the bone mass is reduced.
There are a number of other risk factors that can contribute towards osteoporosis. These include long-term steroid intake (for treating various medical conditions), an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), low body weight, alcohol abuse and a family history of osteoporosis. Certain gastrointestinal conditions that result in malabsorption of essential nutrients can cause osteoporosis. Drug treatments in managing conditions such as cancer are also a well-recognized risk factor.
Symptoms and Signs of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis takes a number of years to develop. During the early years of the condition, the bone is only slightly thinned out in patients may not experience any symptoms whatsoever. However, even after osteoporosis has set in completely, patients may continue to be asymptomatic. A diagnosis of osteoporosis is usually made when the patient sustains a fracture from very minimal trauma. Common factors can include fracture of the vertebra, hip fractures, fracture of the neck of femur and wrist fractures.
With multiple fractures occurring over a number of years, the spine can assume a hunched posture, which is fairly characteristic of patients with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a specialized test called bone densitometry (known as a DEXA scan). This assesses the thickness of the bone and measures it on a scale called the T score. A score of about -1 is normal and less than -2.5 is osteoporosis. The values in between are called osteopenia, meaning the bone is thin but not enough to be classed as osteoporosis.
Treatment of Osteoporosis
As such, there is no cure for osteoporosis. However, treatment options are aimed at thickening of the bone and preventing fractures. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation can help strengthen the bones. In some individuals, a group of drugs called bisphosphonates may need to be prescribed. These drugs can slow down the process and keep the bones stronger for longer.
In elderly individuals with osteoporosis, physical therapy and occupational therapy input may be required to help them mobilize safely and prevent them from falling and injuring themselves.
Other simple measures such as stopping smoking, maintaining an ideal body weight and cutting down on alcohol intake are also important. Hormone replacement therapy is also beneficial.