Description: Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that even mild stresses like bending over, lifting a vacuum cleaner or coughing can cause a fracture.
Persons most commonly affected: Women are at a greater risk than men, especially women who are thin or have a small frame, as are those of advanced age.
Organ or part of body involved: Bones
Symptoms and indications: Early in the course of the disease, osteoporosis may cause no symptoms. Later, it may cause dull pain in the bones or muscles, particularly low back pain or neck pain.
Later in the course of the disease, sharp pains may come on suddenly. It may not radiate; it may be made worse by activity that puts weight on the area, may be tender, and generally begins to subside in 1 week. Pain may linger more than 3 months.
People with osteoporosis may not even recall a fall or other trauma that might cause a broken bone, such as in the spine. Spinal compression fractures may result in loss of height with a stooped posture (called a dowager’s hump).
Fractures at other sites, commonly the hip or bones of the wrist, usually result from a fall.
Causes and risk factors: Osteoporosis occurs when an imbalance occurs between new bone formation and old bone resorption. The body may fail to form enough new bone, or too much old bone may be reabsorbed, or both. Two essential minerals for normal bone formation are calcium and phosphate. Throughout youth, the body uses these minerals to produce bones. If calcium intake is not sufficient or if the body does not absorb enough calcium from the diet, bone production and bone tissue may suffer. Calcium is essential for proper functioning of the heart, brain, and other organs. To keep those critical organs functioning, the body may reabsorb calcium from the bones for their use. Thus, the bones may become weaker, resulting in brittle and fragile bones that can break easily.
Usually, the loss of bone happens over an extended period of years. Often, a person will sustain a fracture before becoming aware that the disease is present. By then, the disease may be in its advanced stages and damage may be serious.
The leading cause of osteoporosis is a lack of certain hormones, particularly estrogen in women and androgen in men. Women, especially those older than 60 years, are frequently diagnosed with the disease. Menopause brings lower estrogen levels and increases a woman’s risk for osteoporosis. Other factors that may contribute to bone loss in this age group include inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, lack of weight-bearing exercise, and other age-related changes in endocrine functions (in addition to lack of estrogen).
Other conditions that may lead to osteoporosis include overuse of corticosteroids (Cushing syndrome), thyroid problems, lack of muscle use, bone cancer, certain genetic disorders, use of certain medications, and problems such as low calcium in the diet.
Prevention: Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, cola drinks and caffeine. Have enough calcium and vitamin D and get plenty of weight-bearing exercises. Foods rich in calcium are milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon, sardines, nuts specially almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, baked beans and broccoli. Best source of vitamin D are eggs and liver. Spending 15 minutes in the sun 2-3 times a week is also beneficial. Sugars, pastries, soft and alcoholic beverages, breads, candies, etc., leach the calcium out of the body. A high intake of salt can increase the loss of calcium in the body. Try to exercise at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes.