Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones and causes them to become brittle. Bone is a living tissue and is continually being broken down and replaced. With osteoporosis, the bone deteriorates and loses density or mass faster than it can be replaced. As the disease progresses, the bones become more likely to break, and when the bone loss is severe, even minor falls and something as simple as coughing or bumping into furniture can result in fractures. Osteoporosis affects more than 25 million men and women of all races every year; however, white and Asian women, particularly those who are post-menopausal, have the greatest risk of developing this debilitating disease.

Causes of Osteoporosis

Bones reach their maximum strength and density, or peak bone mass, by around age 30. After that point, the creation of new bone slows. This, combined with certain other risk factors, can lead to osteoporosis. Some risk factors, including a family history of the disease and a small body frame size, are uncontrollable. The possibility of developing osteoporosis increases with age, and irregular hormone levels or thyroid problems can be a contributing cause. Some risk factors for this condition may be avoidable, however. Insufficient calcium and vitamin D intake can increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, as can too much protein, sodium or caffeine. Smoking, drinking alcohol and leading a sedentary lifestyle also have been associated with this bone disease, as have long-term use of corticosteroids and some seizure and cancer medications.

Osteoporosis Diagnosis

An evaluation to diagnose osteoporosis involves taking a medical history to determine the specific risk factors involved and how they may have contributed to developing the disease. The doctor may measure for height and examine the spine for a hump. If bone disease is suspected, a bone density test of the hip or spine may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatments for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis treatments are aimed at decreasing bone loss and reducing the risk of fractures. This often includes making lifestyle changes, such as modifying the diet and getting more exercise and physical activity. Osteoporosis medication may also be prescribed. For women at high risk for fractures due to the disease, injectable medication to help rebuild bone may be advised.