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Osteoporosis Causes, Symptoms and Available Treatments

18th December 2016
Osteoporosis causes, symptoms and available treatments

Just like other organs inside our bodies, bones are living tissues, so they grow, break down, are replaced and regenerate throughout our lives.

In children and young adults, up to the age of 30 years, new bone is produced at a higher rate, and replaces the tissue that the body breaks down. However, as we age, the rate at which the organism breaks down the bone tissue becomes higher, so more bone is destroyed than it is produced and replaced.

As this happens, the inside of the bone, which looks like a honeycomb in a healthy person, becomes less dense, so the bone becomes more porous. At the same time, the outside of the bone becomes thinner, and this leads to a decrease not only in density but also in strength.

All these changes weaken the bones, making them more prone to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by the loss of bone mass and strength. As the bones become thinner and weaker, they are also more fragile and can break easier, so people affected by osteoporosis are more likely to experience fractures.

Genetics, the lack of exercise and of calcium, excessive alcohol consumption, as well as conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or a low body weight can make one more susceptible to osteoporosis.

Given that most people do not show any symptoms until they suffer a fracture, osteoporosis is considered a “silent” disease, so it’s hard to recognize and diagnose. It is, however, recommended for people who don’t practice sports, don’t get enough calcium from their diet and are older than 35 years, to check their bone density by undergoing a DXA test.

DXA comes from dual energy X-ray absorptiometry and it’s a test used for measuring the density of the bones in spine, hips and wrists. It’s painless and can be done in people who are at high risk for developing this condition, as well as in those who suffer a fracture, to see whether osteoporosis was the cause.

In osteoporosis patients, the fractures can be in the form of cracking or collapsing, and the recovery time depends on the area affected, as well as on how dense the bone is. Spine fractures for example can take a lot of time to heal, but hip fractures are also a very serious problem, and may require months or even years to fully heal and recover.

The rate at which adults lose bone mass depends on one’s lifestyle and diet habits, as well as on gender, women being more prone to osteoporosis than men. Hormonal changes, pregnancy and menopause speed up the loss of bone mass and the weakening of the tissues, but by the age of 65-70 years, men and women are losing bone tissue at similar rates.

Osteoporosis can be prevented, but many of the risk factors for this condition cannot be controlled. These include one’s age, sex, family history and genes, but other factors like the intake of calcium and vitamin D, the use of alcohol and cigarettes, practicing exercises regularly – especially weight-bearing exercises, as well as using certain drugs – all these factors can be controlled.

So if you’re still under or around 30 years and want to prevent osteoporosis or minimize the loss of bone and strengthen the tissue, you can do this by adjusting your lifestyle choices. On the other hand, if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis already, you may need more specialized treatment. Such options include drugs that are used for preventing the loss of bone mass, or hormone therapy in some cases.

Although the type of medications prescribed may vary for men and women, in general the recommendations include bisphosphonates, as well as estrogen for women and testosterone in men. As alternative treatments, some doctors may recommend soy protein, which acts similarly to estrogen on the bone tissue.

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