Osteoporosis: weak, brittle bones due to the thinning bone tissue and loss of bone density over time.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle due to bone tissue thinning and bone density loss over time. This creates an increased risk of fractures as bones become weak and brittle. The bones can become so fragile that a fall, coughing, or even bending over can cause a fracture.
Osteoporosis occurs when the body does not get enough calcium, or if the body does not absorb enough calcium from the diet. Calcium is essential for the normal bone formation. Throughout youth, the body uses calcium to produce bones. Insufficient amounts of calcium can cause osteoporosis.
With the passage of age, calcium and phosphate may be reabsorbed back into the body from the bones. This makes the bone tissues weaker and as a result the bones become fragile. Osteoporosis may also occur if the body fails to form enough new bones, when too much old bones are reabsorbed by the body, or both. Women typically experience an increase in bone density loss during menopause due to an estrogen deficiency.
Osteoporosis does not show any symptoms or pain in the early stages. But once the condition has developed and the bones become weak, several symptoms may be noticed. Symptoms may include neck pain, height loss, back pain, and stooped posture. Bone pain or tenderness and fractures of hip, wrist, vertebrae, and other bones may also occur.
One of the serious risks of osteoporosis is that the bones become so weakened that they begin to compress or collapse. Fractures due to compression can be severely painful and they require a long time for recovery. Multiple fractures due to compression can result in loss of height and stooped posture.
Osteoporosis is usually diagnosed by measuring the bone density. The most commonly used test is Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA). DEXA is a quickly and accurately measures the density of bones in areas most likely to be affected by this disorder, like the spine, wrist, and hip. DEXA is used to accurately follow the changes in these bones over time.
X-rays may be used to show fracture or collapse of the spinal bones, but simple X-rays of the bones can not accurately predict whether someone is likely to suffer from osteoporosis. In some rare cases, Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT) or simple CT scanning is also used.
Physical therapy programs can be helpful to build bone strength and improve body posture, balance and muscle strength, making falls less likely. Regular exercise reduces the likelihood of bone fractures. Examples of useful exercises are walking, jogging, yoga, stationary bicycling, stretch bands, and dancing.
Osteoporosis can also be treated with medication. Bisphosphonates are the primary drugs used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis. These drugs inhibit bone breakdown, increase bone density, and preserve bone mass. Calcitonin is a drug that slows the rate of bone loss and helps to relieve bone pain. Teriparatide is a powerful drug that treats osteoporosis by stimulating new bone growth.