What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes your bones to become weak and brittle. Sometimes it is called "emphysema of the bone" or "not enough bone in the bone." It is a common disease, and can result in fractures from even trivial trauma. In fact, it is estimated that a 50 year-old woman has a 40% chance of having an osteoporotic fracture during her remaining lifetime. Osteoporosis is important because of the problems resulting from these fractures- disability, loss of independence, and even death. Any kind of fracture may occur, but the most common are fractures of the spine, hip, and wrist. Osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging, but is a disease that can be prevented and treated, provided it is detected early.

Who gets osteoporosis?

Anyone can get osteoporosis- 44 million Americans have a problem with significant bone loss. 80% of them are women, 20% are men. While no one is immune from this problem, some of us are more likely to get it than others. Common risk factors for osteoporosis are:

  • Female
  • Postmenopausal
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Lack of exercise
  • Small body frame
  • Low calcium intake
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Caucasian or Asian
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, hypogonadism
  • Medications – corticosteroids (Prednisone), excess thyroid hormone, some diuretics (Lasix), and anticonvulsants (Dilantin, Phenobarb, Tegretol)

Do you have osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis only causes symptoms when it is far advanced. Symptoms include loss of height, deformed spine ("dowager’s hump"), unexplained back pain, and fractures. It is best to detect problems at an early stage, when treatment is most effective. The best test for detecting osteoporosis is bone densitometry, done with a technique called "Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry" or DXA. This is a very accurate way of measuring your bone density, and can be used for both early detection and for monitoring the effectiveness of treatment for this disease. If you are concerned about osteoporosis, ask your doctor for more information.

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