Osteoporosis Complications
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Osteoporosis Complications

Overview

Highlights

  1. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone breaks down faster than it can be restored. This causes bones to be less dense and more susceptible to fractures and breaks.
  2. There are no clear signs of osteoporosis until you break or fracture a bone unexpectedly.
  3. Pain from osteoporosis can affect your quality of life and cause complications.

Bone in your body constantly breaks down and is replaced by new bone. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones break down faster than they can be replaced, making them less dense and more porous. This brittleness weakens bones and makes them more susceptible to fractures and breaks.

Osteoporosis can have a big impact on your quality of life. Lifestyle disruptions range from pain to depression to long-term home care. People who have osteoporosis or who are at risk of getting it should be aware of potential complications of the disease and seek solutions before issues arise.

Read more: What do you want to know about osteoporosis? »

Symptoms of osteoporosis

There are no obvious signs of osteoporosis. Often, people don’t realize they have it until they experience a bump or fall that causes a bone to break. Some people will experience a loss of height over time or a stooped posture as a result of a broken vertebrae and curvature of the spine.

Causes and risk factors of osteoporosis

According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 18 million are at risk of developing it. The following are some factors that put you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Age: Typically, the older you get the more at risk you are.
  • Gender: Women, especially women in menopause, are more likely to get osteoporosis than men, as low estrogen levels lead to weak bones.
  • Genetics: Osteoporosis can be inherited.
  • Body type: People with a small, slender build are more likely to get it.
  • Medications: Medications such as steroids have been linked to osteoporosis.
  • Some thyroid problems have been linked to osteoporosis.
  • Low vitamin D and calcium levels can lead to bone loss.
  • Lack of exercise or long-term bed rest can weaken bones.
  • Tobacco and alcohol can weaken bones as well.

Complications of osteoporosis

In addition to making you more susceptible to breaks and fractures, osteoporosis can lead to other complications:

Limited mobility

Osteoporosis can be disabling and limit your physical activity. A loss of activity can make you gain weight and increase stress on your bones, in particular your knees and hips. Gaining weight can also increase your risk of other problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Depression

Less physical activity can lead to a loss of independence and isolation. Activities you once enjoyed may be too painful now. This loss, added to the fear of fractures, can bring on depression. A poor emotional state can further hinder your ability to manage health issues. A positive, forward-thinking outlook is helpful when approaching any medical issue.

Pain

Fractures caused by osteoporosis can be severely painful and debilitating. Fractures of the spine can result in a loss of height, a stooping posture, and persistent back and neck pain.

Hospital admission

Some people with osteoporosis break a bone and don’t even notice it. Most broken bones need hospital care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2012 there were 250,000 hospital admissions for hip fractures in people 65 years of age and older. Surgery is often needed for this procedure, which can lead to long hospital stays and high costs.

Nursing home care

All too often, hip fractures can lead to long-term care in nursing homes. People who are bedridden are subject to cardiovascular complications, more exposed to infectious diseases, and susceptible to various other complications.

Treatment and prevention

There isn’t a cure for osteoporosis so treatment aims to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. Bones need calcium to stay strong and healthy. Not getting enough calcium early on in life can lead to osteoporosis later on. Regardless of your age, calcium supplements can help strengthen your bones and keep them healthy.

Additionally, vitamin D can help your body absorb calcium. Be sure to check with your doctor about adding any supplements to your diet.

A moderate amount of exercise can help your bones and body stay strong. Falls account for a large number of bone fractures, so practices such as yoga, tai chi, or any other balance-training exercises can help you have better balance to avoid falls and fractures.

Medications can also help with osteoporosis. Drugs that slow the rate of bone loss are antiresorptive medications. Drugs that promote bone growth are anabolic medications.

For women in menopause, estrogen therapy can help prevent bone loss and strengthen bones.

Other prevention methods involve improving eyesight and using a cane or walker when walking to prevent slipping and falling.

Read more: Osteoporosis treatments »

Long-term outlook

Although there is no permanent cure for osteoporosis, there are many things you can do to treat symptoms, strengthen your body, and slow the progression of the disease. Try to focus on minimizing its symptoms and don’t let other complications arise. If osteoporosis has diminished your quality of life, talk with your doctor about possible solutions, especially if you are experiencing signs of depression, and seek assistance at home from family and friends. Keep a positive outlook on life and don’t view changes in usual activities as a loss of independence. Instead, see them as an opportunity to learn different ways of doing things and exploring new, enjoyable activities.

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