Known as a thinning of the bones that often includes fractures and joint pain, the word osteoporosis comes from the Greek terms for “porous bones.” Osteoporosis is defined as having a bone density of 2.5 standard deviations below young adults. In other words, if your bone density is significantly lower than the density of a young adult person, you have osteoporosis. Your osteoporosis will lead to a decrease in the strength of your bones. Having osteoporosis greatly increases your risk of breaking a bone, in the same way, that young people are at an increased risk for broken bones because they are still developing the density of their bones. Osteoporosis is the most common reason for a broken bone among elderly people. If you have osteoporosis you are more likely to break your backbones, forearm bones, or hip bones.
A health professional will diagnose you using a type of bone density scan called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry procedure, or a DEXA scan. You will lie down on a table, and a small x-ray will scan your lumbar (extending from your chest to your tailbone) spine and both of your hips. These x-ray images will help your doctor evaluate the calcium content of your bones.
Until you experience a broken bone, you will typically not experience symptoms of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is not a disease that has symptoms, but more a disease that has consequences of increased risk of bone fractures. You may experience chronic pain and a decrease in your ability to carry out ordinary tasks as a result of osteoporosis. Eventually in the course of the disease, your thoracic (the twelve bones attached to your ribs that make up your “backbone” ) vertebrae may be affected, causing a gradual collapse of your vertebrae known as kyphosis. Kyphosis is what produces the “little humpbacked old woman” effect. Because the main characteristic of kyphosis is an excessive curving of the thoracic region of your spine, it produces a “hunched over” effect.
Osteoporosis has many causes, ranging from age to different medications, treatments, diseases, or diets. Known causes of osteoporosis are age, alcoholism, anorexia, anti-seizure medications, chemotherapy, not getting enough exercise, smoking, low estrogen levels, steroids, ovary removal, lower peak bone mass, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and kidney disease.
Getting a well-balanced diet that is rich in vitamin D and calcium and low in fat can play an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. Exercise plays a major role. Like your muscles, your bones are living tissues that respond to exercise by getting stronger. Weight bearing exercises that work against gravity are best for your bones. Walking, climbing stairs, and dancing are all non-gym options for this type of exercise.
Talk to your doctor about other more medication based strategies that can help. However, medication won’t do a thing if your lifestyle choices don’t change for the better.
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