Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones causing them to become weak. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist.
Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person's ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
Who is at risk of osteoporosis
Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others. Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis and fractures include:
- Advanced age
- An inactive lifestyle
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Current low bone mass
- History of fracture in a close relative
- Being thin and/or having a small frame
- Estrogen deficiency as a result of menopause, especially early or surgically induced
- Low lifetime calcium intake
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Use of certain medications (corticosteroids, chemotherapy, anticonvulsants and others)
- Smoking, alcohol
- Women are at higher risk than men in general
Women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause, making them more susceptible to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition that develops slowly and silently over several years. The symptoms are not obvious and early warning signs can include joint pains, and having difficulty standing or sitting up straight.
When the bones are significantly thinned (a low bone mass), breakages of the wrist, hip, or spinal bones (vertebra) are most common. There may be no warning before a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.
A fractured bone in an older person can be serious because the bone is no longer able to repair itself effectively. This can lead to arthritis, and even disability. Some older people may be unable to live independently following an injury. The characteristic stooping (bent forward) position that is common in older people is a visible sign of osteoporosis. It happens when the bones in the spine are fractured (cracked), making it difficult to support the weight of the body.
A healthy lifestyle and regular exercise is the best way to delay the onset of osteoporosis, and slow down the rate at which bones become fragile.
Other lifestyle factors that can help prevent osteoporosis include:
- A healthy diet that contains plenty of calcium
- Quit smoking
- Limited alcohol intake
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