Osteoporosis means "porous bones." This condition is characterized by fragile or weak bones that break easily. A combination of heredity, diet, hormones, age and lifestyle factors all contribute to this condition. Osteoporosis attacks bones slowly and silently until a fracture occurs, usually in the hip, spine, or wrist. Women are four times more likely than men to develop this condition because of the loss of estrogen (blocks or slows down bone loss) at menopause. More than half of all women over the age of 65 have osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, a major public health threat for the nearly 25 million Americans with low bone mass (80% are women), can progress without visible symptoms for many years. The loss of estrogen after menopause is an important contributor to bone loss in women, and osteoporosis leads to 1.3 million fractures each year.
Osteoporosis usually is preventable. Parents need to take steps to protect their children’s bone health through the teenage and young adult years. Building strong bones at a young age will lessen the effect of the natural bone loss that occurs with age.
Screening for Osteoporosis
As part of a bone health assessment, your physician or nurse practitioner will check family medical history and your bone mass measurements. Ask your doctor to help you better understand your own risk and become aware of prevention and treatment options.
Most women will be screened for osteoporosis beginning at age 65 and older by bone mineral testing. These testing devices use x-ray technology to examine bone loss in the hip and spine.
Often a bone fracture is the first sign of osteoporosis. Other symptoms that might prompt earlier screening include: estrogen deficiency, a fracture in a minor injury, low body weight, small body frame, loss of height, medical conditions known to cause bone thinning, and medications that prevent calcium absorption.
Treatment for osteoporosis is based on severity of the osteoporosis, other health problems you may have, personal preference (pill, liquid, nasal spray injection, or IV) and side effects. Medications are classified either as Calcitonins which inhibit calcium loss in the bone, estrogen and hormonal therapies that also prevent bone loss, biphosphonates which prevent loss of bone mass, or teriparatides, a hormone that causes new bone to form.