Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density resulting in brittle, fragile bones that are more susceptible to fractures. The condition most commonly affects elderly women. Osteoporosis related fractures are more common at the hips, wrists, or vertebral bodies of the spine. Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease,” because a majority of the patients may be unaware of their condition until they develop a bone fracture.
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are two different medical conditions. The main difference between osteopenia and osteoporosis is the measure of bone mineral density. Osteopenia refers to low bone density which is not low enough to be considered as osteoporosis.
The factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk than men
- Family history of osteoporosis
- People with thin and small body frame
- Certain endocrine disorders
- Ethnicity: Asians are at an increased risk
- Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and eating disorders
- Some medications such as corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, and thyroid replacement therapy
An accurate diagnosis of osteoporosis is essential to prevent future spinal compression fractures and to maintain a healthy spine. Your doctor will arrive at the diagnosis of osteoporosis based on the medical history, physical examination and neurological examination. Your doctor will evaluate your muscle strength, reflexes, and sensations. X-rays of the spine may show fracture of the vertebrae. In addition, X-rays also show a washed out appearance of the bones due to the lack of calcium. Your doctor may order a bone densitometry scan, also called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), for measuring bone density using a very low dose of X-ray. A DEXA scan is used to diagnose osteoporosis as well as osteopenia.
Test results will be presented in the form of two scores:
- T score: It is the comparison between the bone mineral densities of an individual to that of a young healthy adult. A T score of -1.0 or above is considered normal. A score between -1 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia (low bone mass) and a score below -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.
- Z score: It is the comparison of your bone density with that of other individuals of the same age, sex, and race (cohorts).
The goal of the osteoporosis treatment is to control pain and prevent bone fractures, by preventing bone loss. Treatment for osteoporosis is based on the age, gender, and fracture risk and bone status of the patient. There are different treatment options available for the management of osteoporosis including lifestyle changes, weight bearing exercises, calcium and vitamin D supplements, hormone replacement therapy, and medications to stop bone loss and strengthen bones.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), pain medications and spinal bracing are often used for the treatment of back pain.
Osteoporosis is a serious health condition that can cause bone fractures. This condition can be controlled and the complications can be prevented if detected early.
Some of the preventive measures that can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis include:
- Consume a healthy well balanced diet
- Get adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D
- Do not smoke
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake
- Exercise regularly
- Take medications to prevent osteoporosis
Consult your doctor for any queries regarding osteoporosis. Your doctor is a reliable resource to answer all your questions and help you understand the condition better.