Osteoporosis Q & A
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a metabolic disease that interferes with the bone replacement cycle. Normally, old bone tissue is replaced with new, healthy bone tissue at a steady and equal rate, maintaining the strength and density of the bone. Osteoporosis slows down the production of new bone tissue so old bone tissue is not replaced at the same rate. As a result, bones become less dense and more porous and brittle, making fractures much more likely. In very advanced stages of the disease, even simple movements like walking, bending, standing up or rolling over in bed can cause fractures.
What causes osteoporosis?
People with osteoporosis have lower levels of essential minerals necessary for bone tissue formation. The specific cause of the disease is unknown, but researchers have identified these risk factors associated with the disease:
- older age
- hormonal changes, especially those that occur during menopause
- thyroid disease
- kidney disease
- leading an inactive or sedentary lifestyle
- excessive consumption of alcohol
Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, and the disease is also more common among those with a family history of osteoporosis.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Osteoporosis can be diagnosed with a simple test called a bone density scan (sometimes called a DEXA scan). This noninvasive, painless scan uses x-rays to assess the density of bone tissue in different areas of the body. DEXA scans can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of osteoporosis treatments. Many people with osteoporosis don’t realize they have the disease until a fracture occurs, making bone density tests especially valuable in identifying the disease in early stages so treatment can begin as soon as possible. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine DEXA screening for women beginning at age 65 years or younger for those with an increased risk for the disease.
How is osteoporosis treated?
Medications and supplements are available for people with osteoporosis to help reduce the risk of fractures, and lifestyle changes may also help delay the progression of the disease. Ongoing evaluations are also critical for ensuring bone health is optimized so fractures can be prevented.