What Is Osteoporosis Exactly?
One in four women over the age of 50 and more than one in eight men are affected by osteoporosis. Shockingly, half of these people have no idea they have osteoporosis and haven’t received a personal diagnosis for this potentially life-threatening disease.
If you want to avoid what many in the medical field refer to as a “silent disease,” it’s important to understand what is osteoporosis, who this bone disorder effects, and – most importantly - how you can prevent it, diagnose it, and manage it.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disorder where your bones slowly become thinner and thinner. This may be due to a wide range of factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, medications, and more.
As your bones thin, they become more brittle and fragile. This leaves you with a higher risk of fracturing or breaking a bone. In fact, in advanced cases of osteoporosis, people have been known to fracture a bone doing small, everyday movements like sneezing or couching.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
The causes of this common bone disorder are extremely varied. In general, the underlying causes of osteoporosis can be broken down into a few key categories.
Poor diet, especially malnutrition or excessively low levels of minerals like calcium in your food, can contribute to osteoporosis. Other diet factors that may raise your risks of bone mineral loss include excessive sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Additional lifestyle choices that may impact bone health include smoking and lack of exercise.
Some diseases have been linked with a higher risk of bone loss. These include liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
Some medications that you may be taking can cause your bones to lose some of their thickness and strength. This includes steroids, aromatase inhibitors, anti-seizure medications, etc. It’s important to talk to your doctor about how different drugs you’re on may impact other areas of your health.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Besides the causes mentioned above, there are four key risk factors to be aware of.
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk than men.
- Age: While age doesn’t cause bone loss, there are higher rates among older men and women.
- Race: Men and women of Asian or Caucasian descent have a higher risk of bone loss.
- Familial history: If it runs in your family, or if your parents or grandparents experienced fractures, you may be at a higher risk of bone health problems.
Popular Osteoporosis Myths
Because osteoporosis is so pervasive and so misunderstood, it’s important to counter common myths about this bone disorder.
The most dangerous myth is that it's normal for your bones to get weaker as you age. While it's statistically true, it's not inevitably due to age but rather due to other factors that have built up over time. By knowing that it's not your destined fate, you can be empowered to take back control of your bone health and the aging process.
Likewise, many people - especially those in their 20s and 30s – link osteoporosis with big benchmarks in life, such as menopause. It's true that your risks of bone health problems go up after menopause, but that doesn't mean there aren't things happening right now in your body that you can take control of.
Finally, many people think osteoporosis is untreatable. The good news is that a combination of preventative lifestyle changes, as well as modern medications, can keep you moving, active and happy for many years to come.
Common Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Many men and women do not get an osteoporosis diagnosis until they go to the doctor after experiencing symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of osteoporosis that accompany bone loss include changes in your posture, changes in your height, back pain, and fractures.
Changes in Your Posture
A report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology noted that when bone mineral loss occurs, one of the first places that it shows up is in the vertebrae in your spine.
As you lose bone density in your spine, your spine can start to curve. That can be due to weakening/collapsing vertebrae, fractures, or even vertebrae in your spine that has become displaced.
Changes in Your Height
As the bone density in your spine changes, it can also impact how tall you stand or sit. The effects can be subtle, but it’s one of the largest red flags, especially if you notice a difference of several inches since when you were a young adult.