What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a long-term medical condition that causes your bones to become weak, brittle, and more likely to fracture. Osteoporosis occurs when your body absorbs more bone than it makes. It is also caused by a lack of calcium and estrogen (female hormone).
What increases my risk of osteoporosis?
- Age: Everyone loses bone mass as they age. The body builds less new bone to replace old bone after the age of 35. The older you are, the more likely you will develop osteoporosis.
- Estrogen: Estrogen keeps women's bones strong. A woman's body makes much less estrogen after menopause. Exercising too much and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, also decrease estrogen.
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Illnesses: Some illnesses, such as thyroid diseases, bone cancer, and long-term lung diseases, may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Lifestyle: Cigarette smoking or drinking too much alcohol or coffee over a long time can weaken your bones. Not exercising regularly or not being active also weakens your bones.
- Medicines: Certain medicines, such as steroids, anticonvulsants, and blood-thinners increase your risk.
- Nutrition and body size: You are at higher risk if you do not eat a good diet with enough calcium and vitamin D or you are small-boned or thin.
What are the signs and symptoms of osteoporosis?
You may not have any signs or symptoms of osteoporosis. You may break a bone after a muscle strain, bump, or fall. A break usually occurs in the hip, spine, or wrist. A collapsed vertebra (bone in your spine) may cause severe back pain, spinal changes, or loss of height with bent posture.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
You may have one or more of the following tests:
- Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine samples may be sent to the lab to measure how much calcium, vitamin D, and thyroid hormone you have in your body.
- X-ray: An x-ray of your bones will show any fractures or collapsed vertebrae.
- Bone density test: The test uses an x-ray to check for early signs of osteoporosis. It compares your bone density to what is expected for someone of your same age, gender, and race.
- CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your bones. The pictures may show if you have decreased calcium levels in your bones. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to iodine or seafood. You may also be allergic to the dye.
How is osteoporosis treated?
Medicines for osteoporosis help prevent bone loss and increase bone density which can decrease the risk of spine and hip fractures:
- Bisphosphonates: These medicines increase your bone density and may help prevent future fractures.
- Calcitonin: This medicine helps build new bone.
- Hormone replacement therapy: This is also called HRT. You may be given a hormone called estrogen. Caregivers will monitor you closely while you use this medicine.
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators: These medicines have an estrogen-like effect on your bones and may be used to treat osteoporosis.
How can I help prevent further bone loss?
- Eat a variety of healthy foods that are high in calcium: This helps keep your bones strong. Good sources of calcium are milk, cheese, broccoli, tofu, almonds, and canned salmon and sardines.
- Increase your vitamin D intake: Vitamin D is in fish oils, some vegetables, and fortified milk, cereal, and bread. Vitamin D is also formed in the skin when it is exposed to the sun. Ask if or how often you should be in the sun.
- Drink liquids as directed: Adults should drink between 9 and 13 eight-ounce cups of liquid every day. Ask what amount is best for you. For most people, good liquids to drink are water, juice, and milk. Avoid liquids with caffeine.
- Get plenty of exercise: Talk to your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can decrease your blood pressure and improve your health.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol decreases bone mineral density, which can weaken your bones.
- Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are more likely to have heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and other health problems if you smoke. You will improve your health and the health of those around you if you quit. If you smoke, ask for information about how to stop.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You have pain when you do your daily activities.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek immediate care or call 911 if:
- You have severe pain in your chest or back, bones, muscles, or joints.
- You have increasing pain after a fall.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.