Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) is a metabolic disorder of the skeleton, in which the bones lose strength and become porous. The disease causes bone fractures, particularly in the forearm, the neck of the femur (hip) or the spinal column.
What is osteoporosis?
Bone appears to us as a rigid, firm substance that hardly changes at all. However, in a healthy body, there is a constant balance between a breakdown and building up of bone substance. For example, if more bone is broken down than new bone is produced, we lose bone substance. This is when osteoporosis begins -- when our bones lose their strength and are more susceptible to fractures.
Osteoporosis is mostly diagnosed in women – after menopause – and also frequently in people who have been treated with cortisone for many years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified osteoporosis as one of the ten most significant diseases of our time, worldwide.
But, as daunting as these facts are, osteoporosis is treatable. There are, for example, back braces that straighten the spine and can be integrated seamlessly into everyday living and give patients some of their quality of life back.
Signs & Symptoms of Osteoporosis
There are signals that can lead to an early diagnosis. These include loss of height with advancing age. Bones may sometimes even break without any recognizable cause. For example, some patients suffer broken ribs from something as simple as coughing or even fracture their hip or wrist after a minor fall.
Another indicator of osteoporosis is the so-called "dowager's hump" (rounded back). Continuous pain in the lumbar and dorsal spine can be signs of osteoporosis. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a doctor at an early stage to clarify the situation.
Causes & Risk Factors of Osteoporosis
- Primary osteoporosis: Primary osteoporosis accounts for about 95% percent of disorders that involve the loss of bone mass. Type I osteoporosis primarily affects women after menopause. The first bone fracture occurs about eight to ten years after the last menstrual period. The vertebral bodies in the lumbar spine are particularly susceptible. In type II osteoporosis, the first bone fracture doesn't occur until after the age of 70. Women account for most of the patients (two thirds). Besides the spine, the long bones in the thigh and arm are also affected. The risk factors for the onset of primary osteoporosis are familial predisposition, hormone status (later onset of the first menstrual period and earlier menopause) and certain lifestyle habits (little exercise, bed-ridden for a long period, a low calcium or phosphate-rich diet that includes fast foods, cola, processed lunch meat; and "consumer poisons" such as alcohol, coffee and cigarettes while being underweight).
- Secondary osteoporosis: Secondary osteoporosis develops as a result of certain disorders or as undesirable side effects of a number of drugs. Risk factors for the onset of secondary osteoporosis are anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of asthma or rheumatism (cortisone), high dose thyroid hormones, coumarin derivatives (Marcumar), chronic disorders of dietary uptake, e.g. due to diseases of the pancreas, the intestine, the liver and the kidneys as well as hormone imbalances such as an overactive thyroid or diabetes mellitus and tumors.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
There are preventive measures that even young folks should take to heart in order to counteract the risk of losing bone mass. The keyword is diet: eat or drink at least 1,000 milligrams calcium every day.
Sounds simple, but what foods are calcium-rich? Calcium is to be found in milk products, fish, and a number of vegetables. Our body also needs vitamin D to process and produce calcium. The body synthesizes vitamin D whenever sunlight falls on the skin. Vitamin D can also be taken as tablets.
Physical exercise is also important for our bones, as training your muscles means more muscle mass, which leads to a better prognosis for bone quality.
Treatments for Osteoporosis
About every fifth patient suffers a new bone fracture within 12 months after the first fracture, which means it’s important to start treatment right away.
Treatment of osteoporosis requires an interdisciplinary approach, i.e. co-operation between several specialists. Bone specialists (osteologists) prescribe medicines that prevent the breakdown of bone and strengthen the bone formation, while orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons handle with fractures and any possible surgical needs. As a rule of thumb, contact an orthopedic specialist or osteologist for all questions you may have about recovery.
Functional Treatments: Back Braces
Due to the close link between muscle and bone, loss of bone and muscle mass always occur at the same time.
Treatments for spine fractures should always include a combination of drugs and medical devices (functional treatment) because fractures cause pain and further loss of muscle mass due to restricted mobility. Modern medical devices straighten up the spine and train the muscles at the same time.
While patients with osteoporotic vertebral fractures were often immobilized in rigid corsets in the past, this encouraged the loss of muscle mass. Today it is recognized that, besides treatment with medication, muscle activity is necessary for increasing bone mass.
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