Human bone is densely packed with a number of substances, like calcium, to give the body a rigid support structure. In osteoporosis this compact material starts to break down and the bone becomes weak or brittle. Brittle bones mean that the body or affected bone can take less weight and impact and will easily break under stress. Due to the nature of osteoporosis, healing of the bone will also be impaired. Osteoporosis is more common in women than men, especially after the onset of menopause but any gender or age group can be affected with osteoporosis.
Causes of Osteoporosis
The exact cause of osteoporosis can not always be identified. Sometimes its a result of certain drugs and at other times it may be due to hormonal changes. In osteoporosis, the body’s natural mechanism of deploying new bone material is impaired and the existing bone gradually breaks down. Our bones usually reach their peak density and mass by the 30’s and then may gradually reduce over the decades. In osteoporosis this happens much faster.
While th exact causes cannot be identified, there are certain known risk factors associated with the development of osteoporosis. These include :
- Gender – women are more at risk.
- Age – osteoporosis is more likely to set in after the age of 45 years.
- Family history
- Hormones – in women, the decreased levels of oestrogen in menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis. The same applies for men with low levels of testosterone.
- Drugs like corticosteroids, certain antidepressants and high doses of synthetic thyroid hormones used in hypothyroidism.
- Lack of activity
- Alcohol abuse and tobacco use
- Low intake of calcium
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Certain weight loss surgery like a jejuno-ileal bypass.
- Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
In the early stages of osteoporosis there may be no obvious symptoms. For this reason, it is advisable that any person at risk of developing osteoporosis or women in menopause should have a bone density scan done at least once a year. As the condition progresses, some of the symptoms that may present include :
- Pain the in the back and long bones like the leg and hand bones.
- Bones that fracture easily and do not repair quickly or completely.
- Loss of height over time.
Treatment of Osteoporosis
Calcium supplementation is essential, not only in those with osteoporosis but also as a means to prevent osteoporosis. It is important to use a calcium supplement which also contains magnesium as this increases absorption from the gut.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be necessary for menopausal women with osteoporosis. Biphosphates reduce bone breakdown and may increase your bone mass.
Weight bearing exercises, swimming and yoga have been shown to help in reducing the bone breakdown and preserving the bone mass.