7 Important Facts About Osteoporosis

by Bethany
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Have you ever noticed older people with stooped shoulders or bent backs? Have you seen the commercials with an old lady falling and breaking a hip? Or perhaps you remember commercials telling you to drink more milk for stronger bones. Many people know that calcium has something to do with bones and posture and osteoporosis but don’t understand how it relates to their body.

Before we talk about osteoporosis, let’s learn more about your bones. Most people think of their bones as being sturdy, strong and never changing. However, your bones are constantly losing bone mass and then remaking new bone. When you are young, your body makes more bone than is broken down, so you actually increase your bone mass. As you age, production of new bone material slows. Your bone mass will naturally decrease. When this happens, your body must call upon its stores of previously made bone mass to make more bone.

7 Important Facts About Osteoporosis

This is where calcium comes in. Your body uses this mineral to make new bone mass. However, your body doesn’t make calcium, so it relies on your diet to make up for the missing mineral. Calcium is also used throughout your body for different functions like sending messages through the nervous system, regulating heart rate, and helping your muscles contract. If your body cannot get enough calcium for these functions, it will take the calcium from your bones. This will become important later as we look at what exactly osteoporosis is and how it affects you specifically.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” Your bones become less dense as they lose mass, making them more porous, or full of tiny holes and cracks. This results in your bones being more spongy than hard. If you have lost too much bone mass at one time, or if your body cannot make enough new bone material to keep up with the loss, you will develop osteoporosis. This leads to bones becoming weak and brittle. If your bones remain this porous, they can easily break. Serious injuries involving broken bones can occur from something serious like a fall or hard bump. However, if bone loss is severe, even small movements like coughing, sneezing, and bending over can cause broken bones.

As your bone mass decreases, your body must work harder to make new bone tissue. If there is calcium available, your body will use it to restore bone mass. If there is a calcium deficit in your body, your bones are the first to lose it. This can lead to even more bone loss because your body must deplete the stores in the bones so it can perform more important tasks elsewhere. Remember, your bone mass naturally decreases as you age, so there is no way to stop that process. Instead, we must look at ways to prevent osteoporosis.

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Who Is Affected By Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects everyone because bone loss occurs in all humans as they age. About 80% of patients diagnosed are older women, especially those of Caucasian and Asian descent. Menopause speeds up the loss of bone mass. In fact, one in four women over the age of 65 are diagnosed with osteoporosis. Men and women with smaller frames are more at risk because they have less bone mass to draw from as they age. Low testosterone levels in men has also been identified as a risk for developing this disease. It is important for everyone take action to prevent and manage osteoporosis.

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Common Signs Of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because there are few warning signs. Many people do not experience any symptoms until they break a bone. Before that happens, some patients experience back pain caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra. As the vertebrae weaken, patients may also experience loss of height over time from stooped posture and slumped shoulders. Even when a bone is broken, the pain might not be severe enough for the patient to notice. Many people just attribute the pain to “getting older.” This is why most people do not experience symptoms until they break a bone causing severe pain. Usually, the hip, spine, or wrist are the first bones to break.

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Causes Of Osteoporosis

Loss of bone mass can be caused by a number of factors. Lack of estrogen affects both sexes and has been linked to the development of this disease. If you do not get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, your bones are more likely to become brittle. Your body must take these minerals from the bones to make the rest of your body function normally. Unhealthy lifestyle choices like inactivity, severe alcohol use and cigarette smoking causes bone loss as well. Some medications, like steroids, can cause osteoporosis if used for long periods of time. Family history and body mass also play a role.

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Preventative Measures

Prevention of osteoporosis is extremely important. Weight bearing exercises like walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing, and jumping rope will make your bones stronger and less prone to breaking. Exercise will also lower body mass which will decrease the stress on your bones. Changing your diet can also aid in prevention. Add calcium to your daily diet. If you struggle to get enough calcium from the food you eat, take a supplement. Shoot for 1,000 mg a day if you are a man or a pre-menopausal woman. Post-menopausal women should have 1200 mg a day. Consider supplementing with Vitamin D as well, since it helps your body absorb calcium. Cutting alcohol and cigarettes will also decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis.

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Living With Osteoporosis

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you can lessen the effects of the disease with diet and lifestyle changes. It is not too late to increase your calcium and Vitamin D intake with diet and supplements. You can also make your home safer. Move all cords, toys, and rugs that might cause falls. Add hand rails near the shower and toilet in the bathroom. Make sure you can easily get in and out of bed, especially in the middle of the night. Always use handrails when walking up and down stairs. Depending on how severe your bone loss is, your doctor might prescribe medication that effects bone density. Hormone therapy has also been used in both men and women.

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Seeking Medical Help

If you have experienced any warning signs of osteoporosis, see your doctor right away. If you are older or have a family history, they may suggest you have a DEXA scan to check your bone density. This is more in depth than a simple X Ray. (X Rays can only detect problems after a bone is fractured.) Your primary care physician will probably refer to you a specialist if you are diagnosed. You may see an endocrinologist who specializes in metabolic disorders or a rheumatologist who specializes in diseases of joins, muscles and bones. These specialists will work with your primary doctor to ensure you are receiving the best care possible.