The National Osteoporosis Foundation defines osteoporosis (OA) as a condition in which the bones become so porous and weak that they are likely to break from a minor injury. Osteoporosis is the most common form of bone disease and is most prevalent in women. The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) estimates that one in three women will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime.
There are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is sometimes called a “silent disease” because you could have it for years without knowing it. However, as the disease progresses, the likelihood of fractures increases. The bones that most typically break are those of the spine, hip, and wrist.
Other symptoms of osteoporosis include:
- Loss of height (as much as 6 inches) over time
- Low back pain due to fractures of the spinal bones
- Neck pain due to fractures of the spinal bones
- Stooped posture or kyphosis, also called a "dowager's hump"
Most of the time, a person only discovers that they have osteoporosis after breaking a bone. If you’ve had a fracture or if your doctor believes you may have osteoporosis, he or she will suggest one or more of the following tests:
- Bone mineral density (BMD) testing measures how much bone you have and assesses your risk for future bone fractures. Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a type of bone mineral density test.
- Quantitative computed tomography can also be used to measure bone mineral density.
- Spine or hip x-rays may be used to show fracture or collapse of spinal bones.
- A bone scan involves injecting a dye into the patient. The dye allows the scanner to indentify differences or changes in various parts of the bone that could indicate cancer or fractures.
- Blood and urine tests might be necessary if your osteoporosis is thought to be a complication of another medical condition, as opposed to simply normal age-related bone loss.
There are a variety of treatments for osteoporosis that work to relieve pain, stop or slow down bone loss, and prevent bone fractures.
Bisphosphonates are the primary drugs used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Calcitonin, a calcium-regulation hormone, may be used to slow the rate of bone loss and to relieve bone pain.
Lifestyle choices that help increase bone strength play an integral role in treating osteoporosis patients. It’s important to exercise regularly (especially weight-bearing exercises) and include high-calcium and vitamin D-rich foods in your diet. It is also important to stop any unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. People with osteoporosis should make an effort to prevent falls. For example, avoid medication that causes sedation, remove any hazards around the house, and always wear well-fitting shoes.