Osteoporosis: A Silent Disease

Osteoporosis is a silent disease. A person suffering from osteoporosis is not aware of it, until sustaining a fracture.

Bones have many important functions. They provide support, facilitate movement and serve as protection to delicate organs. They also play an important role in creating blood cells. We, therefore, need to take care of our bones. Osteoporosis is a disease of the bone. It is a condition characterized by decrease in mineral bone matrix.

Osteoporosis is known to be a disease of the elderly. However, did you know that osteoporosis can start after 25 years of age? Therefore, it’s important to develop strong bones by that age.

The main cause of osteoporosis is an imbalance between the generation of new bone and bone resorption. Failing to develop new bone and excessive bone resorbed may lead to osteoporosis. Calcium metabolism is another factor to consider. Calcium, together with phosphate, is needed for normal bone formation. In order to facilitate normal functioning of vital organs, the body reabsorbs calcium stored in bones to normally maintain calcium level in the blood. If dietary intake of calcium is not enough or if the body fails to absorb calcium from food, bone production will suffer, weakening bone tissue. Thus, bones will become fragile and prone to fracture.

Another cause of osteoporosis is lack of estrogen in women and androgen in men. Menopause lowers estrogen level in women. This explains the high incidence of osteoporosis for women during the postmenopausal years.

Other medical conditions that can lead to osteoporosis are problems of the thyroid glands, bone cancer, overuse of steroids and low calcium diet.

Although osteoporosis is a progressive disease with no initial symptoms, it is important to know its unique clinical presentation. Symptoms of dull pain in muscles and bones, low back pain and neck pain are its distinctive presentation. As the disease progresses, sharp pains may be felt especially on weight bearing joints. The pain is accompanied by localized tenderness. The pain can be present for a month.

Compression fractures are common in the spine. A person with osteoporosis is not even aware of a trauma or fall that may have caused this. Fracture sites after a fall are usually on the wrist and hip.

It is advisable to consult a doctor if you have persistent pain on your lower back and neck especially if you are on your postmenopausal years. A bone density assessment is usually conducted to detect osteoporosis. This test is very helpful in detecting osteoporosis and in predicting possible future fractures. It is a noninvasive painless procedure. Blood tests may be requested to measure your calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D levels. A thorough history and physical examination will be conducted to gather important details about your presenting symptoms. However, if you have severe pain and limitation of motion due to fall or trauma, go directly to the emergency department.

Treatment for osteoporosis aims on increasing bone density and slowing the demineralization process on bones thus preventing fractures associated with the disease. A calcium-rich diet of about 1,000 mg per day is highly suggested. Eating foods high in calcium and drinking calcium-fortified milk are good sources of daily calcium needs. Regular exercise is also beneficial. According to research, exercise can lessen the likelihood of bone fractures. However, ask your doctor about specific exercises to perform and what to avoid. For women, estrogen replacement therapy can be suggested. However, long-term use of estrogen is highly controversial. You should ask your doctor for details of its benefits and risks. Calcium, vitamin D supplements and biphosphonates can also help. However, always consult a doctor regarding the use of these drugs.

Osteoporosis requires early detection and treatment to reverse, stop or slow down its progression. Osteoporosis also requires prevention. Eat right, have a healthy lifestyle and do regular exercises.

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