SVH: Staying Healthy — Osteoporosis


What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis means “porous bone”. Normal bone is dense, somewhat like a new sponge or honeycomb. With osteoporosis, bone loses mass becoming porous, thin and fragile…so fragile that common actions like sneezing or minor lifting can cause bones to break.

Known as “the silent disease” or “the silent thief,” osteoporosis progresses without symptoms or pain until the bones become brittle and can fracture easily.

Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for 25 million Americans. Studies estimate that when a woman goes through menopause, she has nearly a 40% chance of developing an osteoporotic fracture during the rest of her life. In fact, a woman’s risk of hip fracture alone is equal to the combined risk of developing breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.

What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis occurs when the amount of bone loss is greater than the amount of bone that’s formed. Throughout life, bone is continually renewed. During youth, bone renewal and growth is usually greater than bone loss. Around age 30, bone removal starts to overtake replacement and both men and women lose bone. The rate of loss is greater in women especially due to the loss of estrogen with menopause. Estrogen plays an important role in the bone renewal process, and often the sudden decline in estrogen production after menopause leads to rapid bone removal and osteoporosis.

Risk Factors

Estrogen deficiency caused by menopause is the single most important cause of osteoporosis. The presence of any one of the following factors can add to your risk:

  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • A previous broken bone that might have been the result of osteoporosis
  • Caucasian or Asian descent
  • Thin or small build
  • Use of certain medications, such as steroids (commonly used to treat asthma and arthritis) and thyroid hormones (if the dose is too high)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Not getting a great deal of exercise
  • Not getting enough calcium (or didn’t as a child)

NOTE: Even if none of these risk factors apply to you, you still may have osteoporosis. A bone mineral density exam can provide your physician with the information that is needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

What to do if you’re 65+

  • Know if you’re at risk for having or developing osteoporosis.
  • Get a bone mineral density test to determine whether you have osteoporosis. Then get tested annually, or as recommended by your physician.
  • Seek medical treatment if you have osteoporosis.
  • Look into estrogen replacement therapy. It can make a difference at any age.
  • Incorporate weight-bearing exercise into your life.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Limit your alcohol intake and don’t smoke.
  • Stay educated.

Treatment Options

Although osteoporosis cannot be cured, the FDA has approved three medications for the treatment of osteoporosis. These medications work to slow or stop bone loss, increase bone density and reduce fracture risk.

  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT)
  • Alendronate (Fosamax)
  • Calcitonin (Calcimar Miacalcin)

By seeking proper medical care and making some adjustments to your lifestyle, you can live actively and comfortably with osteoporosis.

The following medications are also used to prevent osteoporosis:

  • Estrogen
  • Alendronate (Fosamax)
  • Raloxifene (Evista)