Common Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Back pain affects millions of people, and its causes can be varied. While muscle tension is one of the primary causes, a sore back – especially if the pain involves your lower back – can be one of the first early signs of osteoporosis.
One of the easiest ways to tell if your lower back pain is due to bone health or another issue is by paying attention to when it hurts. If your back primarily hurts, and gets worse, after you’ve been standing for extended periods of time, it may be due to spine strength and bone health.
When your bone loss goes untreated for too long, you’ll experience bone fractures. This might happen when you’re doing a small, everyday movement like bending over. Loss of bone strength from osteoporosis is one of the most common reasons behind unexpected fractures.
How Doctors Diagnose Your Osteoporosis
There are many ways that your doctor may analyze your bone health and determine whether you’re experiencing osteoporosis. In general, these exams aren’t ordered by a doctor unless you meet one of the following criteria that marks you as a potentially high risk for the bone disorder if:
- You’re a woman over the age of 65.
- You have one of many risk factors, such as hyperparathyroidism.
- X-rays reveal irregularities in your bones.
- You’re using medications linked to bone mineral loss, such as steroids.
One of the most reliable ways that your doctor will screen for osteoporosis is with a dual-energy X-ray absorption (DEXA) scan. Your doctor will likely scan osteoporosis “hot spots” such as your wrists, hips and your spine.
The scan will return a score on your bone strength. Your doctor will then compare it to the average scores of young adults, as well as the average scores of people who match your age and gender in the overall population.
This allows your doctor to determine whether your results are abnormal or not. Thankfully, the tests don’t take very long, are not invasive, and aren’t painful in any way. If used early enough, the exams can give you the info you need to take preventative steps to preserve your bone strength.
There are a wide array of treatments available if you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis. The goal for all of these different treatments is to either prevent, stop or slow down how quickly your bones lose minerals, as well as minimize your risks of broken bones and fractures.
Not all treatments are equal, and some people respond better to specific treatments than other people. It’s important to talk to your doctor and discuss what’s available for you, as well as what may have worked in the past, to create an effective treatment plan.
Some osteoporosis treatment options to discuss with your doctor include:
These are one of the most commonly used family of drugs to treat bone loss. Specific medication names include alendronate, etidronate, risedronate, and zoledronic acid.
The way these drugs work is by binding to the surface of your bones. By binding to, and coating, your bones, they slow bone mineral loss while giving your bone-building cells a chance to do their job.
Bisphosphonates are generally used to build up the density of your bones, as well as minimize your risks of spinal fractures. Some bisphosphonates have also been shown to reduce the risks of fractures in your hips or other bones. Thus, it's important for your doctor to know what areas of your body are experiencing the most bone loss.
It’s important to note that calcium negatively affects how these medications work, so timing your dosages, so they’re timed away from your meals and supplements is important.
Denosumab is a relatively new treatment for osteoporosis. It's a human monoclonal antibody, and it works by slowing the development and the activity of the cells that cause bone loss. It's primarily used in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis and can help minimize the risks of fractures.
This hormone is what doctors refer to as a bone formation agent. Your bones are constantly undergoing a process where your bones rebuild. In osteoporosis, the rate of bone loss is more than the rate of bone building. This drug, which is administered via injections, increases the rate at which your bones rebuild.
The administration of progesterone or estrogen as part of hormone therapy may help with osteoporosis because estrogen improves bone maintenance. This drug is especially helpful if you have gone through menopause. After menopause, your body produces less estrogen, which may be linked to bone loss.
SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators)
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) is a non-hormonal therapy that acts like a hormone similar to estrogen. Thus, it may help to build and maintain the strength and density of your bones. It's primarily used with women after menopause.
These are not your only treatment options, but they’re some of the most common that your doctor may suggest. Again, it’s important to work with your healthcare professionals to find a treatment (or combination of treatments) that work best for your lifestyle and your current bone health.