Osteoporosis is a condition in which the body’s bones become less dense, making them vulnerable to breaks, also known as fractures. Gradual bone loss is a normal part of aging, but people with osteoporosis will have more bone loss than expected. Although osteoporosis is very common in the general population, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of ever developing osteoporosis.

Read on to learn more about osteoporosis and how you can work with medical providers at Lompoc Valley Medical Center to improve your bone and joint health.

How Common is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is the most common disease of the bones.  It is estimated that 53 million people in the United States suffer from osteoporosis or are at risk of osteoporosis, including about one-fourth of women over age 65.

Who is at Risk of Getting Osteoporosis?

White women who have gone through menopause are the most likely to develop osteoporosis.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis include the following:

  • Having a decreased body weight, or low body mass index (BMI)
  • Being of Asian descent
  • Having a decreased dietary consumption of calcium or Vitamin D
  • Having a calcium absorption disorder
  • Having an eating disorder (like anorexia) or digestive disorder (including those caused by a gastric bypass surgery)
  • Having an inflammatory disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Smoking
  • Excessively intaking alcohol
  • Going for long periods without a menstrual period during your childbearing years
  • Taking certain medications, including steroids or anti-seizure medications, particularly for an extended period of time
  • Undergoing hormonal treatment for certain types of cancer
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

In the early stages, osteoporosis will have no symptoms, making it a “silent disease.” As bones become more brittle and fragile, they will be more likely to break; in fact, sometimes a broken bone will be the first sign of osteoporosis.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 50 percent of women in the U.S. will break a bone in their spine, hip, or wrist after their 50th birthday. With osteoporosis, bones can break without much of an injury or fall at all; these types of breaks are called “pathologic fractures.”

Aside from broken bones, people with osteoporosis may experience a loss of vertical height, or a change in posture, which can cause pain or discomfort.

How is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed based on the appearance of your bones on an imaging test called a DEXA scan, which is a special type of X-ray. Routine one-time screening with a DEXA bone density scan is recommended for all women once they reach the age of 65.

If your osteoporosis is discovered because you have broken a bone, your medical provider may use plain X-rays or CT scans to aid in the diagnosis.

If your medical provider suspects that you may have an underlying condition that is causing your osteoporosis, he or she may also order another type of lab tests.

How is Osteoporosis Treated?

Osteoporosis is treated in a number of different ways. If your osteoporosis is borderline or mild, you may be counseled to make lifestyle changes. These may include:

  • Increasing your intake of Vitamin D and calcium
  • Increasing your exercise and other weight-bearing activities to improve your bone density

If your osteoporosis is moderate or severe, your medical provider may recommend that you take a medication. These may include:

  • Oral medications, such as bisphosphonates
  • Injectable medications, such as monoclonal antibodies or hormonal medications

Some of these medications can have serious side effects, so it is important to carefully weigh the costs and benefits with your medical provider before starting a new medication.

To evaluate the effectiveness of osteoporosis medication, your medical provider may conduct another DEXA scan after a certain period of time (usually about two years) to make sure that they are having the intended effect.

If you have broken a bone because of osteoporosis, the bone may be allowed to heal on its own, or it may be surgically fixed. If you have suffered from a particular kind of broken bone in the spine, known as a compression fracture, you may have a specific procedure, known as kyphoplasty, in order to help correct the fracture and alleviate any resulting pain.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, your medical provider will also recommend ways to prevent falls, such as improving the lighting in your home, wearing supportive footwear, and using devices to help you feel more stable.

What Are the Possible Complications of Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis greatly increases your chances of breaking a bone. Certain types of fractures, such as hip fractures, are more highly associated with serious disability and even death. Prolonged treatment of osteoporosis with medications can also have serious health implications, such as increasing your risk of developing cancer.

How Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?

Osteoporosis can be prevented, or reduced, by taking the following measures to build up your bone mass:

  • Eating a diet high in calcium and vitamin D
    • Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt), broccoli, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, salmon, sardines, tofu, almonds, and foods that have been fortified with calcium (usually cereals, breads, or orange juice)
    • Dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs, fish, and liver
  • Taking a calcium or vitamin D supplement, in coordination with your medical provider, especially if you follow a vegan diet
  • Getting daily exposure to sunlight in order to improve your vitamin D levels
  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake
  • Engaging in a specific weight-bearing exercise program, such as this osteoporosis exercise program offered by the National Institutes of Health
  • Avoiding medications that can contribute to lower bone density, such as prolonged steroid courses

How to Learn More About Osteoporosis

You can learn more about osteoporosis and how to have healthy bones at every stage of life by visiting this site from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Make sure that you are up to date with your bone density screening, and other health metrics, by scheduling a routine physical with a Lompoc Valley Medical Center healthcare provider today. You can even catch up with your medical provider without leaving your home, using our convenient TeleVisit platform.