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What to Know About Osteoporosis

A group of seniors dances inside a studio. Osteoporosis—weak, brittle bones—is common with age and can cause serious and costly complications, such as fractures. Low bone density and osteoporosis occur in about 56% of American adults aged 50 and older.

If you are an older adult and concerned about your bone health, orthopedic physicians can screen your bone density and provide preventions and treatments. Orthopedists are bone specialists and know all the latest advances in osteoporosis treatment.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when the mineral density, mass, and strength of bones decrease. It is a serious disease because weaker bones are easier to fracture. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 1.3 million Medicare recipients were treated for osteoporosis-related fractures in 2016.

Some fractures are minor, but broken bones can be debilitating. For instance, a broken hip can severely impair walking and mobility. The NOF reports that only 15% of patients can walk unassisted six months after a hip fracture and only half will regain normal function again.

Causes – Is Osteoporosis Genetic?

Three older women on bikes smile and laugh together outside. The underlying cause of osteoporosis is bone remodeling as you age. Bones shed old tissue and rebuild new tissue every few years. The two processes remain balanced in most people until about the age of 30. After that, bones start shedding old tissue faster than they can build up new tissue. If not addressed, this can lead to osteoporosis.

While this imbalance is normal with aging, osteoporosis is not. There are several contributing factors, including genetics. If you have a family history of osteoporosis, your risk is higher. Being over 50 and being female are also risk factors.

Osteoporosis is more common in women because of the hormonal changes that occur with menopause. A man’s loss of testosterone can also contribute to osteoporosis.

Certain medications can weaken bones and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Heparin
  • Diuretics
  • Progesterone birth control
  • Lithium
  • Aluminum antacids
  • Methotrexate (used to treat inflammatory arthritis)
  • Some chemotherapy drugs

Some health conditions also put you at risk for osteoporosis:

  • Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal conditions
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Some blood disorders
  • Neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s and stroke
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Endocrine disorders, which disrupt hormones
  • Some surgical procedures, like gastrointestinal bypass

Other risk factors for osteoporosis include poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Early Symptoms of Osteoporosis

An older woman stretches and smiles on a yoga mat in a park. Unfortunately, osteoporosis is largely a silent condition. Many people don’t have symptoms until they experience a bone fracture and are then diagnosed. There are a few subtle clues that you could have low bone density that you should pay attention to:

  • Reduction in height
  • Upper back curving forward
  • Fractures from minor falls or accidents

A condition called osteopenia is often a precursor to osteoporosis. Osteopenia is low bone density that is not severe enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis. You won’t know you have this unless you undergo a bone density scan.

5 Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis

Some of the factors that increase your chances of developing osteoporosis can’t be changed, age for instance. There are several modifiable risk factors for osteoporosis that you can control. Started as early as possible, these will help keep your bones stronger and denser as you age:

1. Talk to Your Doctor

Because several medications and health conditions increase the risk of osteoporosis, it’s important to talk to your doctor about bone density. Make sure they know all of your medications and supplements. They can assess your risk and make any necessary changes to promote bone health. Diagnosing and treating health conditions will also help.

2. Check Your Hormones

If you are a woman and have gone through or are in menopause, talk to your doctor about hormone therapy. Supplemental hormones might be appropriate. Some men lose more testosterone than is normal and can benefit from supplements.

3. Supplement Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D work together to keep bones strong and dense. Poor nutrition, particularly a diet too low in these nutrients, can lead to bone weakness. Your doctor can recommend supplements or dietary changes if necessary.

4. Exercise Regularly

Beginning an exercise routine at a younger age when the body is still building a lot of new bone tissue is best, but it’s never too late. Regular exercise will benefit your bone health no matter your age. Weight-bearing exercises are especially important.

5. Quit Smoking and Drink Moderately

If you smoke, quitting now will improve your health in many ways. Although the mechanism isn’t known, smoking seems to contribute to bone density loss. Excessive alcohol is also associated with bone loss.

How Do Orthopedic Doctors Treat Osteoporosis?

Unfortunately, osteoporosis isn’t always preventable. An orthopedic specialist can screen you for osteoporosis and provide treatment if you get a diagnosis.

They will start with changing your risk factors and helping you adapt your lifestyle to build up more bone strength. This could include changing medications if possible, beginning supplements, improving diet, exercising, and making other lifestyle changes.

Your orthopedist will also talk to you about how to prevent falls. Exercise that strengthens muscles and bones and improves balance is important. Working with a physical therapist can help guide your exercise. You can also adapt your home to make falls less likely.

Medical treatment for osteoporosis may also include drugs that slow bone loss or improve mineral density. Bisphosphonates are commonly used to treat osteoporosis. They help bones absorb calcium and interfere with cells that promote bone loss. Other drugs are available as well. An orthopedist will discuss the options with you and help you choose an appropriate course of treatment.

If you have concerns about bone loss or have had a bone fracture due to a minor accident, an orthopedist can help. Request an appointment online to talk to one of our specialists about bone health.