Learn whether you're at risk for osteoporosis, as well as symptoms and treatment options.
The Gist of It
- Osteoporosis is a silent disease with no symptoms or actual cures.
- It leaves your bones brittle and fragile, and leads to higher risk of fractures and broken bones.
- Treatment options include exercising, eating a diet rich in calcium, getting enough vitamin D, as well as medication.
On your list of things to worry about, your bones probably come very low. You’re no doubt more concerned about your meeting tomorrow at work and the recently revealed pimple on your chin. Your bones? Nah, they’re so tough and solid. What could happen?
Osteoporosis, that’s what.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease. You probably won’t know you have it until you break a bone. And that’s not pleasant.
And don’t just associate this disease with the old folks. Aging happens to anyone, so it’s better to equip yourself with the knowledge rather than have it surprise you when you’re 65.
Although the likelihood of breaking a bone is more common in older women, anyone can develop osteoporosis. As many as half of all women and a quarter of men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
So What Exactly is Osteoporosis?
- Osteoporosis (or porous bone) is a condition in which the bones become fragile and brittle, leading to a higher risk of fractures (breaks or cracks) than in normal bone.
- The ingredients which form your bones and give them strength are protein, collagen and calcium.
- Osteoporosis happens when your bones lose minerals like calcium more quickly than your body can replace them, which leads to loss of bone thickness (bone mass or density).
- As your bones become thinner and less dense, even tiny bumps or accidents can cause serious fractures. Doctors call this “fragility” or “minimal trauma fractures”.
- The fracture can be either in the form of cracking (as in a hip fracture) or collapsing (as in a compression fracture of the vertebrae of the spine).
- Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common sites are bones in the hip, spine, wrist, ribs, pelvis and upper arm.
Osteoporosis usually has no signs or symptoms until fracture happens – this is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’.
Some osteoporotic fractures may escape detection for years when they do not cause symptoms. Therefore, patients may not be aware of their osteoporosis until they suffer a painful fracture.
The symptom associated with osteoporotic fractures usually is pain; the location of the pain depends on the location of the fracture.
Although early detection and timely treatment of osteoporosis can substantially decrease the risk of future fractures, none of the available treatments for osteoporosis are complete cures. Treatment is usually to prevent bone fractures by reducing bone loss, or preferably, by increasing bone density and strength.
In other words, it is difficult to completely rebuild bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis treatment measures include:
1. Be careful with vigorous, high-impact exercise, but still have an active lifestyle
- An active lifestyle will improve your balance and coordination, as well as muscle strength, which will reduce the risk of falling and fracturing a bone.
- Bone-friendly exercises include swimming, gardening, walking, golfing, and Tai Chi.
2. Eat a diet rich in calcium
- This is important for maintaining healthy bones (even if you do not have osteoporosis).
- Great sources of calcium include milk and dairy products like hard cheese, yogurt, dried apricots, figs, and some green leafy veggies such as watercress and curly kale.
- Post-menopausal women with osteoporosis should aim to take 1,000mg of calcium every day, either in their diet or as a supplement. This can be obtained from 600ml of low fat high calcium milk with either 50g of hard cheese (e.g. cheddar or edam) or one cup of yogurt.
3. Get some vitamin D
- Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly.
- Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight and can also be obtained from some foods, such as oily fish (just go out in the sun for more than 15 minutes daily, and you’ll get your vitamin D fix).
- Vitamin D supplementation at 800 IU/day in combination with calcium has been shown to reduce fracture in elderly populations with vitamin D deficiency.
- Your doctor may prescribe the medicines to help prevent fractures and increase your bone density.
- If you suspect that you have signs or symptoms of osteoporosis or have risk factors for osteoporosis (see risk factors above), talk to your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.
If you’re young and hardy, and still haven’t been struck by osteoporosis, check out the 5 things you can do to keep osteoporosis away and the 6 superfoods that can help fortify your bones.
How are you taking care of your bones? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!