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Osteoporosis is characterized by weak, brittle and porous bones

Updated: Tuesday, Jul 06,2010, 3:36:09 PM
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We often think about osteoporosis as a disease that only women need to worry about. But men can be affected too. Osteoporosis is characterized by weak, brittle and porous bones. it's the leading cause of hip fractures, a disabling problem that affects many seniors.

10 million Americans already have osteoporosis and 18 million more have low bone mass, which places them at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. (Osteopenia is a term used to describe the early demineralization of bone that can develop into osteoporosis.) Eighty percent of those affected by osteoporosis - 8 million Americans - are women. In fact, one in two women and one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

Our spines are another part of the body that is seriously at risk from osteoporosis. that osteoporosis causes 700,000 fractures of the vertebrae each year.  An exaggerated curve in the back, called kyphosis, is a common problem.

How it develops

We may think our bones are solid and unchanging, but they're not. Bone is living tissue.  special cells called osteoclasts are constantly breaking down old bone as other cells known as osteoblasts are replacing it with new tissue. As people age, more bone is broken down than is replaced. As a result, the insides of the bones become more porous, because much more bone is destroyed than is replaced. This makes the bones weaker.

Although osteoporosis usually becomes a problem in older people, it often has its roots in the habits of our youth. The good news is that by developing positive habits, younger people can help reduce their risk of getting osteoporosis later on. the best habits to develop in our teens, 20's and 30's (while our bodies are still building bone density faster than it's being broken down) include:

    * getting enough calcium and vitamin D
    * getting enough exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking
    * avoiding alcohol and smoking

Who's at risk

Although osteoporosis is often thought of as affecting older people, it can strike at any age. there are also certain things that can put us at a higher risk.

    * women have a higher risk because their bones are often smaller to begin with than a man's
    * thin, small-boned people are more at risk for the same reason
    * those with a family history of osteoporosis are more at risk
    * certain racial or ethnic groups have more risk, including white and Asian women
    * age increases our risk
    * smoking increases the risk

In addition, certain medications can also decrease bone density and increase our risk. These include glucocorticoids (corticosteroids) used to treat diseases such as arthritis, some antiseizure drugs, certain sleeping pills, some hormones used to treat endometriosis, and some cancer drugs. An overactive thyroid gland or parathyroid glands can also be a problem. In addition, 90 percent of dialysis patients have bone problems. If you are taking medicines and have concerns, ask your doctor what can be done to protect your bones.

Unfortunately, many people with osteoporosis don't know they have it until it's in its advanced stages. Many find out they have osteoporosis only after they fall and fracture a hip, rib or wrist. Screening techniques can detect osteoporosis before it gets to this point. Special scanning machines that measure bone density can help a doctor determine if a patient has a higher than normal risk, and if so what can be done to help.

Tags: Osteoporosis

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