What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a degenerative condition of the bones. You may hear osteoporosis come up a lot in light of women’s health because of the disease’s connection with hormonal fluctuations. To understand osteoporosis, it helps to have a basic knowledge of resorption, a natural process in which the body creates and cares for bone tissue.
In a normally functioning system, bone is “resorbed,” and replaced with new bone. This means that the body takes apart bone cells and uses their components (namely, calcium and phosphate) elsewhere in the body. The new bone tissue is created to take the old cells’ place. This process takes place constantly. In individuals with osteoporosis, new bone growth cannot keep up with the rate of resorption. This means that the body is losing bone mass, a condition known as osteoporosis. With less mass, bones are more prone to break and fracture.
How common is osteoporosis in women?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10 percent of all women ages 50 and older (4.5 million) have osteoporosis of the hip. Men can also develop osteoporosis. However, the disease is more common in women. Low estrogen and hyperparathyroidism are two underlying causes of osteoporosis specific to females.
Osteoporosis Signs & Symptoms
In order to effectively prevent osteoporosis, it is important to be aware of the disease’s risk factors. Knowing the risk factors can help you protect yourself, your friends, and your family! The risk for osteoporosis increases if you are…
- Over the age of 50. (Risk continues to increase with age.)
- White or Asian.
- Genetically-predisposed to the disease.
- Low in vitamin D and calcium.
- On bed rest and/or inactive.
- Low in estrogen.
- A smoker.
- Drinking more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day.
Another reason it’s important to know these risk factors is that the actual signs and symptoms of osteoporosis oftentimes do not appear until patients already have the disease. Signs and symptoms of osteoporosis may include:
- Stooped posture
- Gradual loss of height
- Back pain (usually caused by a collapsed or fractured vertebra)
- A bone fracture (may be caused by a cough or some other mild trauma)
Osteoporosis does not present many early-stage warning signs. So, if you are at risk for this disease, your health care provider may recommend getting screened.
Getting Screened for Osteoporosis
Most healthcare providers recommend osteoporosis screenings once every two years for patients over the age of 65. However, if you are at high-risk for the disease, then your provider may encourage more frequent screening. The primary screening method is known as a “bone density test.” This test is very similar to an x-ray; it is totally painless and harmless.
During a bone density test, a healthcare professional will expose you to low-dose radiation. This is known as dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA scan). Two x-ray beams are emitted at different energy levels. Measurements of these two x-rays help determine your risk. The risk is reported in two ways:
- A T-Score compares your bone density with the bone density of the average healthy young woman.
- A Z-Score compares your bone density with the average density of other women of your age and race.
Negative numbers (such as -1.3) indicate that you are below the average T- or Z-Score. The lower the score, the higher the risk. If your T-Score is between -1.0 and -2.5, you may be starting to lose bone mass. A T-Score below -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Treatment Options
If your test results indicate osteoporosis, your health care provider may prescribe bisphosphonates, a commonly prescribed osteoporosis medication. Bisphosphonates may be taken orally or injected. The drugs work by slowing or stopping the process of resorption. If the therapy is successful, then patients retain the bone mass they still have. In some cases, bone density may even increase and bones may strengthen. Other therapies may be available.
Schedule An Appointment in Gilbert, Mesa or Tempe, AZ
Are you concerned about your risk for osteoporosis? Learn how to manage your risk factors and protect your bones. Schedule an appointment online with a board-certified OB/GYN with Steward Medical Group Women’s Health Associates or call 480-632-2004.