Osteoporosis Symptoms and Risk Factors

By Barbara Harry, APN-C
Cooper Bone and Joint Institute

If you or someone you know is over 50 years of age and has sustained a fracture, this could be a sign of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the most common of all bone diseases, causing 1.5 million fractures in the United States each year. Osteoporosis is characterized by low bone mass (amount of bone) and disrupted bone architecture. The combination of these two factors results in reduced bone strength. This condition, previously referred to as “brittle bones,” was considered a consequence of aging; however, today we know that osteoporosis is a preventable and treatable condition.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease and often does not cause pain – unless there is a fracture. People do not feel their bones getting “thinner.”

Our bones are composed of living tissue that is constantly remodeling. In this process, old bone is removed and new bone is created. Osteoporosis occurs when this balance is altered, causing more bone to be removed than replaced.

Risk factors for osteoporosis can include:
• Menopause
• Inadequate dietary intake of calcium
• Smoking
• Alcoholism
• Sedentary lifestyle

Some medications, particularly glucocorticoids (prednisone), are known to contribute to osteoporosis. Additionally, certain medical conditions predispose a person to osteoporosis. The most common of these conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, hyperparathyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and malabsorption syndromes (including weight-loss surgery).

The DEXA scan is a diagnostic test for those who may be at risk for osteoporosis. The DEXA scan is a type of x-ray that measures bone density of the hip and lower spine. Results are expressed as “T- scores.” The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that all women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older have a DEXA scan. Adults over the age of 50 who have risk factors for osteoporosis should receive DEXA testing, particularly if they are considering pharmacologic therapy for osteoporosis.

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