Understanding Risk Factors, Signs and Symptoms of Osteoporosis
If you’re wondering how you could have been diagnosed with osteoporosis without noticing any symptoms of osteoporosis, you’re not alone.
It is often a “silent disease”; the symptoms can be vague or nonexistent. In fact, symptoms may not manifest until the disease has progressed.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) estimates that osteoporosis affects more than 200 million women worldwide. It causes 8.9 fractures annually – which equates to an osteoporotic fracture roughly every three seconds.
We often associate osteoporosis as a disease that affects only women. However, the incidence is rising in men. Recently, the lifetime risk of having a fracture relating to osteoporosis for men over the age of 50 has increased to 27% – higher than the lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer (11.3%).
According to a survey conducted by the IOF, which was conducted in 11 countries, “…denial of personal risk by postmenopausal women, lack of dialogue about osteoporosis with their doctor, and restricted access to diagnosis and treatment before the first fracture result in underdiagnosis and undertreatment of the disease.”
The survey is disconcerting, especially considering that osteoporosis is a “silent disease.” Although it can be hard to appreciate the symptoms of osteoporosis entirely, let’s discuss them so that perhaps if you notice them, you can consult them with your physician and get treatment for osteoporosis – before you sustain a fracture.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Unfortunately, as discussed, there are few symptoms associated with osteoporosis. Initially, symptoms do not develop. However, once your bones already become weakened, you may start to notice symptoms.
Some of these symptoms of osteoporosis include:
- Back pain, which is typically caused by fractured vertebrae
- A decrease in height
- A stooped posture
- A fracture that happened quite easily; for example, a forceful cough can break a rib
Frustrating, right? But without appreciating the proper risk factors and then screening for osteoporosis, there really is no way of knowing you have osteoporosis – because symptoms do not manifest until the bones are already very weak.
Primary and Secondary Osteoporosis
There are two types of osteoporosis – primary and secondary.
Primary is a systemic condition and is usually age-related, but can also have a genetic component. When it occurs in young people, it is often due to poor bone formation or an alteration in the natural bone development and resorption cycle.
While primary osteoporosis develops independently of other conditions, secondary osteoporosis occurs as a direct result of poor nutrition, illness or other factors. Medication can sometimes cause secondary osteoporosis to develop.
Secondary osteoporosis may occur independently from primary osteoporosis, or it may be present in addition to primary osteoporosis.
Osteopenia versus Osteopenia
The prefix “osteo-“ means “bone” so you can probably look at the word “osteopenia” and assume that it has something to do with the bones, much like the osteoporosis.
The sad thing is, many people don’t know what osteopenia is, although we all know what osteoporosis is!
Much like prediabetes is the precursor to type 2 diabetes, osteopenia is the precursor to osteoporosis. In fact, WebMD defines osteopenia as “a midpoint between having healthy bones and having osteoporosis. Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker than normal but not so far gone that they break easily.”
Essentially, it is the weakening of your bones before you get osteoporosis. However, you can prevent it from occurring. You can also go on to get osteopenia, and never go on to get osteoporosis!
Most people who get osteopenia get it around the age of 50; it can happen earlier if your bones aren’t naturally dense, and it can also occur later (or again, not at all).
Technology Aids Diagnosis and Treatment of Osteoporosis
Early stage osteoporosis does not cause noticeable symptoms, so diagnostic testing is relied on to identify the condition. At least 25 percent of bone mass must be lost before osteoporosis is detectable by regular X-rays.
The painless tests only take a few minutes, yet they can detect early changes so effective interventions may be promptly initiated to preserve bone mass. A wide array of treatments are able to effectively prevent, and sometimes reverse, osteoporosis, so this testing is very important to salvage bone mass.
Back Issues to Watch out For
Pain, particularly in the lower back, may be a sign of osteoporosis. It may begin suddenly as a sharp, severe pain or it may be chronically present as an aching, nagging, irritating discomfort. Both types of pain may occur simultaneously. Pain may radiate down the extremities.
Back pain caused by osteoporosis is usually worse when standing, especially for prolonged periods. It is often relieved while lying down.
Back pain is a sign of many health conditions, so a complaint of low back pain may not lead a healthcare practitioner to reach a conclusive diagnosis of osteoporosis without the aid of imaging studies or the presence of other symptoms.
Fractures of the Spine May Arise With Little or No Trauma
When osteoporosis is present, the rate of bone loss is the fastest in the spine. Sometimes the vertebrae of the spine weaken, fracture, collapse and become displaced. Fractures most often occur in the mid-back, where they may occur spontaneously with little or no provocation, resulting in severe pain.
Osteoporosis Causes Spinal Deformity
A bent over posture, called kyphosis, may develop when osteoporosis weakens multiple vertebrae. People who have severe kyphosis may develop a hump-shaped spine, which is sometimes referred to as a dowager’s hump because it is most common in elderly women.
A Loss of Height Is a Sign of Osteoporosis
When vertebrae thin or collapse, height is lost. This is particularly evident when kyphosis is present. The loss in height may be dramatic or subtle, depending on the severity of the condition and how extensive the bone damage is.
Difficulty Breathing May Be a Result of Osteoporosis
The impact of bone loss is not confined to the skeleton. Osteoporosis may result in the ribcage becoming deformed, particularly if kyphosis is present. As the deformity worsens, expansion of the ribs and lungs becomes more difficult, which could be painful.
Next page: other important signs and symptoms of osteoporosis to watch out for and osteoporosis risk factors.