Osteoporosis occurs when bones become fragile as a result of the loss of tissue. In the long run, the weakened bones could break and cause severe fractures that crush nerves and require neurosurgery to fix. Oftentimes osteoporosis follows a condition called hypercalcemia, which refers to a drop in the level of calcium in the blood that is used for muscle contractions and nerve functions.
There are two types of bone cells—osteoclasts and osteoblasts. The osteoclasts break down bones and release calcium; they are used to take out old bone that has lost their strength. Osteoblasts are responsible for rebuilding the bone. If someone is diagnosed with osteoporosis, chances are that the osteoclasts are outperforming the osteoblasts, meaning more bone is being broken down and less being formed instead of the other way around. Long term effects of this process cause the bone to become brittle.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
In the early stages of osteoporosis, you might not experience any noticeable symptoms. But once it progresses you might notice:
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected
Because your bones have weakened, a less than usual amount of stress (for example, a fall) can cause a more serious fracture than it would to someone who does not have osteoporosis. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's time to talk to your doctor.
To test for osteoporosis, your doctor will measure your bone density to determine the proportion of mineral in your bones. The test is painless — you simply lie on a padded table while a scanner passes over your body, taking X-ray images. In most cases, you will only need to have a few bones checked, such as your hip, wrist and spine.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you have some options. If you are determined to be at a high risk for breaking a bone in the next 10 years, your doctor will likely start you on medication. Those who are not at high-risk for breaks might instead have their treatment focus on lifestyle changes and reducing risk factors.
Bisphosphonates are the most common medication prescribed to patients with osteoporosis. The drug slows or stops the natural process that dissolves bone tissue, which results in maintained or increased bone density and strength. Studies have shown that bisphosphonates are successful in increasing bone thickness and can lower the risk of fracture.
Outside of medication, progression of the disease can also be decreased by changing some lifestyle habits. This includes quitting smoking and drinking. Since both of these habits speed up the breaking down of bones, it would be counterproductive to continue them. A neurosurgeon can help with lifestyle choices for patients who are unsure what habits they should change.
Due to the fact osteoporosis weakens the bone, the true danger lies in breaking it. Someone who suffers a fracture while having this disorder is slower to heal than one who doesn't. A spine fracture could need spinal surgery even if the fracture isn't severe. By taking simple precautions to not fall or hurt themselves, patients are better able to live with this condition. This disorder can affect one quite a bit later in life, but with proper prevention techniques the effects can be decreased and they can live a normal life.
Osteoporosis tends to occur more in women than in men, but that doesn't mean that both genders shouldn't work to prevent it. In a normal life cycle, humans reach their peak bone mass in their early 20s. If nothing is done after this, the bone starts to deteriorate, and after a few years, osteoporosis can start to appear.
The number one way to prevent this is by exercising. It's been hailed as the one cure to osteoporosis because working out puts good stress on the bones and causes them to rebuild quicker. When you work out, the body is forced into making new bone due to outside stimulation. It feels as if it needs new bone mass to become stronger due to the stress you are placing on the bones. Even though this is the best way to prevent osteoporosis, there are other ways for those who can't or don't want to exercise.
Taking calcitonin (a hormone that helps regulate calcium levels in the body ) and calcium supplements are a good way to prevent osteoporosis. However, you should consult your physician before taking any kind of supplements. There are good and bad ways to take these, so being well informed will help you make a good decision.