When people age — particularly women — there often comes a loss of height and weight, and the development of stooped posture. A bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis (os-tee-oh-pour-osis) often causes these body changes. Osteoporosis causes destruction of bone tissue which leads to loss of bone mass. As a result, bones become brittle and the risk of fracture of the spine, hip, and wrist increases. Spinal fractures are the most common type of fractures due to osteoporosis. Forty percent of all women will have at least one spinal fracture by the time they are 80 years old. These vertebral fractures can permanently alter the shape and strength of the spine.
Most women are likely to feel some effects of osteoporosis in their lifetime, but the good news is that much can be done to reduce and even prevent loss of bone mass and fractures. New treatments for osteoporosis are being discovered each year. You can also actively work to decrease your chances of suffering the effects of osteoporosis. The key is prevention and intervention.
Loss of bone mass begins at around age 30. Although men can be affected by osteoporosis, older women are usually affected — particularly those who are past menopause. Bone loss becomes worse in women after menopause because of the body's lack of estrogen. When bones lose mass they tend to weaken and become fragile. This increases the risk of fracture under stress or because of a fall — particularly in the spine and hip.
Falls in elderly women are often actually the result, rather than the cause, of hip fractures. In other words, a fragile hip bone may simply fracture, causing the person to fall. In severe cases of osteoporosis, the bones can fracture with any kind of slight movement, leaving some people bedridden.
The most common symptoms of osteoporosis are fractures — particularly vertebral compression fractures and hip fractures. Compression fractures in the spine are caused by weakened vertebrae and can lead to pain in the mid back. These fractures often stabilize by themselves and the pain eventually goes away. But the pain may persist if the crushed bone continues to move around and break.
In severe cases of osteoporosis, actions as simple as bending forward can be enough to cause a "crush fracture" in a vertebra. This type of vertebral fracture causes loss of body height and a humped back, especially in elderly women. This disorder (called kyphosis [kye-fo-sis]) is an exaggeration in the curve of the mid back. It causes the shoulders to slump forward and the top of the back to look enlarged and humped.
Consult your doctor if you have symptoms of osteoporosis. Older women should discuss their risks with their doctor, even if they are not currently showing any signs of osteoporosis. All women should be aware of the many preventive steps that can lower their risk of developing osteoporosis.
Blood tests, X-rays, MRIs: there are many ways of diagnosing osteoporosis.
Calcium, Vitamin D, Exercise. Medications, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), Bisphosates, Calcitonin, and Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)