Osteoporosis is a condition where the bone loses density, structure and mass over time. This weakens the bone and makes it more susceptible to fracturing. Though most people with the condition are women, it also affects men.
Pain and Other Symptoms
A person with the condition may have no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, they may experience backache. As the disease progresses and bones demineralize they may have sudden, sharp pains in their spine that indicate fractures. The patient may even hear a cracking sound in their back as this happens.
Later, the patient may notice that they’ve lost height, or they may develop a curvature or deformation of their spine that leads to what is called a dowager’s hump. They may be prone to more and more fractures that occur even with minor injuries or even when the perform everyday tasks. These fractures most often occur in the hips and the arms.
Some patients with low bone density may suffer from trigger points. Trigger points are painful or tender areas over certain muscles that, when pressed or even touched, cause the pain to radiate out over the body. Some doctors treat patients suffering from the pain caused by loss of bone density by injecting analgesics into their trigger points.
What Causes the Condition?
Some causes of the condition are a lack of adequate protein, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium in the diet. Other conditions that cause low bone density are the lower levels of estrogen that occur in women after menopause and the lack of exercise that sometimes accompanies aging. Smoking and alcoholism are also causes.
People who are on corticosteroids and who have suffered a prolonged illness that either keeps them inactive or makes it difficult to get the proper amount of nutrients can also develop the loss of bone density. Diseases such as overactive thyroid and cancer also cause the disease.
Women are more at risk for severe loss of bone density because their bones are less dense than men’s. Removing the ovaries or having malignant ovarian tumors treated with radiation increases the risk, as does having chronic urinary or pelvic infections. Women who are thin and small-boned are more at risk than women who are heavier and big-boned. Caucasian and Asian women are more at risk than African American women.
Other risk factors are a family history of osteoporosis, long-term use of anticonvulsant drugs, use of SSRIs such as Prozac, anorexia, kidney disease, menopause, premature menopause and never having been pregnant. People who drink a lot of soft drinks also increase their risk for the condition. Drugs called protein pump inhibitors, blood thinning drugs, some diabetes medications and lithium also raise the chances of contracting the disease.
The disease is diagnosed through taking the patient’s medical history and giving them a physical examination. X-rays of the patient’s bones show whether they are suffering a problematic loss of bone density and strength.
X-rays can be used with dual energy X-ray absorbitometry, which can measure the density of bone. This is expressed in a T-score. A T-score that’s -2.5 or less is an indication of osteoporosis.
Patients who are undergoing minor pain can take non-prescription pain medications. Doctors prescribe calcium supplements with vitamin D, magnesium, the B vitamins, fluoride or hormone replacement therapy using estrogen and progesterone.
Other medications help prevent bone loss. These medicines are forms of prevention, because once the bone loses density it can’t be replaced. To that end, patients are treated with drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators. These are substances that help increase bone density and lower the risk of fractures in the patient’s vertebrae. They also lower the risk of breast cancer.
Calcitonin is a nasal spray that stops the demineralization of bone. It has analgesic properties.
Bisphosphonates prevent fractures by increasing bone density.
Natural and Alternative Treatments
A natural treatment for loss of bone density are phytoestrogens, which are estrogen-like substances found in plants that bind to estrogen receptors in the body. These foods include soy products, flaxseed oil and flaxseed, parsley, celery apples and whole grain.
Nutritionists recommend that patients with low bone density avoid foods that cause them to excrete calcium. These are soft drinks and foods with high levels of protein, salt and sugar. The diet should be comprised mostly of plants with meat eaten sparingly. The diet should be rich in seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Is There a Cure?
As of 2017 there is no cure for loss of bone density. However, prevention can be achieved by not smoking, avoiding excessive alcohol use, regular exercise and eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that support the health of the bones.
Though fractures can occur in any weight bearing bone, hip fractures cause the most disability. This fracture nearly always requires immediate surgery and costs about $11 billion a year. A patient can suffer a hip fracture through a slip and fall that would barely injure a person whose bones are healthy. Older people who suffer hip fractures may need to use canes, walkers, wheelchairs and other devices to help their mobility for the rest of their lives. Others are bedridden. Hip fracture is actually a cause of death in some older people.
Facts and Statistics
According to statistics, 44 million people have the disease, and one in two women and one in four men over 50 will be diagnosed with it. A woman 45 or older is more likely to be hospitalized due to complications of low bone density than she is for any other malady, including breast cancer. A woman who is 50 years old or older has an equal chance of dying from complications of hip fracture as she does from breast cancer. She is four times more likely to die from a hip fracture than from uterine cancer.
More men die of hip fractures than women, though 75 percent of all hip fractures caused by the disease are suffered by women. Twenty percent of men who suffer hip fractures will die from complications such as deep vein thrombosis, where a blood clot develops in a vein and travels to the lung or the heart.
The peak for hip fractures occurs in people who are between 75 and 79.