What causes osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become weak and break easily. Someone with osteoporosis is more susceptible to bone breaks due to loss of bone density, which results in brittle and weak bone (HHS). Common symptoms of osteoporosis include back pain, loss of height, stooped posture, and bone fractures (Mayo Clinic).
Women and Osteoporosis
More than 80% of Americans with osteoporosis are women (HHS). In some cases, calcium deficiency causes bone density loss. Calcium is an essential nutrient, which means the body cannot produce calcium. The body uses calcium to build bones and teeth, contract muscles, regulate the heart rate, and send messages through the nervous system. If the body does not receive calcium through consumption, it will break down bone calcium stores to maintain blood calcium levels (HHS).
Osteoporosis commonly affects older women due to menopause. According to the Endocrine Society, menopause speeds up bone density loss and increases the risk for osteoporosis because of the drop in estrogen levels. The hormone estrogen helps regulate and inhibit cells called osteocytes, which break down bones. So when a women goes through menopause, the drop in estrogen levels accelerate bone loss.
Screening and Diagnosis
Doctors may recommend bone density testing for women aged 65 or older or women younger than age 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis. Doctors diagnose osteoporosis through a bone density test called a central dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry or DEXA scan. A DEXA scan uses a low radiation X-ray to take images of the spine and hip while the patient is lying down (HHS). Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned or unsure about your risk for osteoporosis.
Prevention and Treatment
Ideally, osteoporosis prevention should begin at a young age. Eating a well-balanced diet, performing weight-bearing activities (like running), and drinking alcohol in moderation can help build and maintain strong bones (HHS). To treat osteoporosis, a doctor may recommend bisphosphonates, SERMs, Denosumab, Calcitonin, menopausal hormone therapy, and parathyroid hormone treatment to prevent bone loss or stimulate new bone mass (HHS).
In addition to prescription medication, a healthcare provider may suggest supplementation and physical activity for patients diagnosed with osteoporosis. Calcium supplements alone cannot build healthy bones. Vitamin D is another essential nutrient for bone health. While calcium is the building block for healthy bones, Vitamin D plays a role in the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Without Vitamin D, the body cannot use the calcium consumed through supplements (Endocrine Society).
Bones naturally become weak with time, but with proper management, people can live healthy, active lives with osteoporosis.
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