When the bones of the body begin to lose their natural tissue and density, they become brittle and much more prone to fractures from simple, everyday activities. The condition is known as osteoporosis, and it affects more than 40 million people in the United States alone each year.
The main reason individuals develop osteoporosis is due to a lack of calcium intake or an inability of the body to absorb calcium that is introduced to the body through a normal diet. Calcium is a nutrient that is essential for the growth of normal bone as well as for the maintenance of existing bone. Typically, a child who does not get enough calcium during their younger years is at greater risk for developing osteoporosis when they get older. This is due to the fact that, as we age, bones tend to weaken and become fragile, and a lack of calcium tends to exacerbate the problem. Additionally, woman are much more likely to develop osteoporosis as they lose bone density when their estrogen levels drop during menopause.
Unfortunately, there are very few signs that osteoporosis is developing until it reaches a point where the bones have already become dangerously weak. At this point symptoms make include a loss of height, tenderness in the bones, incorrect posture, neck and back pain and multiple fractures throughout the body that occur from relatively simple activities such as bending over. And, as osteoporosis progresses, bones can actually begin to collapse due to the forces of compression which the bones can no longer support.
A physician can render a diagnosis of osteoporosis by performing a bone density test such as the Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, which efficiently detects whether or not bones in the most affected areas—such as the spine, wrist and hip—are showing signs of the condition. And by utilizing repeated bone density tests at regular intervals, the physician can also track whether there is a progression of osteoporosis or if the condition is under control.
Once a physician diagnoses osteoporosis in a patient, there are several courses of treatment—often used in tandem—to manage the disease and prevent further deterioration of the bones. Physical therapy can be very useful in keeping bone strength at an optimum level while correcting bad posture. Additionally, exercising regularly—walking stretching, yoga etc.—to maintain a healthy body can reduce the risks of fractures.
The medications used to treat osteoporosis include bisphosphonates, which have also been shown to prevent occurrence of the disease as well as slow the breakdown of bone. Calcitonin is also an effective medication as is teriparatide. The former slows bone loss while relieving pain, and the latter works by forcing the body to build new bone.