Osteoporosis is a condition that affects more than 40 million Americans. It is characterized by low bone mass, which occurs when bone tissue does not have enough protein and minerals.
As the density of the bone decreases, the bone becomes spongy, weak and brittle, making it more susceptible to breaking. Breakage most often occurs in the hip, spine or wrist. Osteoporosis can occur in men and women of any age, but appears more frequently in older women.
Due to the lack of obvious symptoms of osteoporosis other than breakage, the condition is known as a “silent” disease. However, there are several signs that might indicate bone loss.
When there is a loss of bone mass in the spine, some of the bones may break or collapse. These broken bones, called vertebral fractures or compression fractures, cause the spine to shorten and curve forward, resulting in loss of height or postural changes such as stooping or being hunched over.
This hunched-over posture is known as dowager’s hump. Over time, repeated fractures may result in chronic low back pain. A severe vertebral fracture may be accompanied by acute pain in the lower back and sides of the body.
A bone density test is the only way to diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone actually occurs. An X-ray cannot detect bone loss until there is a 25 percent to 40 percent loss of bone mass; however, a physician may recommend an X-ray to determine whether there are any broken bones in the spine.
Tests for calcium levels, thyroid function and testosterone and hormone levels can help determine if there is an underlying cause of bone loss. Bone scans, CT scans or an MRI may also determine an underlying cause.
None of these, however, can diagnose osteoporosis. Tests to determine how fast new bone is being made or how fast bone mass is being lost cannot diagnose osteoporosis, but they can help estimate how well an individual is responding to treatment.
After compiling a medical history and physical exam, a physician may recommend a FRAX test (Fracture Risk Assessment Tool) to evaluate the risk of a future bone fracture. Risk factors include age, height and weight; family and personal history of fractures; lifestyle choices such as tobacco and alcohol consumption and dietary habits; and health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or corticosteroid use.
Treatment for osteoporosis includes:
-Medication that stops bone loss or increase bone formation
-Exercises to improve strength, balance and posture
-Eliminating smoking and excessive alcohol.
Treatment will depend on a number of factors, including age, sex, severity of bone loss, and other health conditions.
A trained medical expert should advise and recommend the appropriate treatment path to overcome osteoporosis. Because of the numerous factors involved in the condition’s causes and symptoms, only a doctor or back specialist should determine which solution works best for the individual patient.