More than 54 million Americans suffer from the effects of this chronic bone disease, or are currently at risk of developing it. Silent and progressive, osteoporosis is one of the most common bone conditions in adults – but it often goes undetected until serious injury takes place. While there is no cure, effective treatment and practical prevention are possible.
Osteoporosis, which means “porous bone,” is a state of steady deterioration and structural weakening of the bones over time. The human body constantly absorbs and replaces bone tissue. For those who suffer from osteoporosis, new bone creation does not occur quickly enough to compensate for this regular tissue loss.
This condition can be difficult to diagnose. Because symptoms of bone deterioration are virtually nonexistent, especially in the early stages, most cases go undetected until the first fracture or multiple-bone break. Many of these injuries occur in the areas where bone is most vulnerable, including the wrists, spine or hips.
While a majority of osteoporosis patients are diagnosed clinically after an injury occurs, the condition can also be recognized in a DEXA scan, a type of x-ray used to determine bone density. These scans are quick, non-invasive, and are one of the most accurate method of diagnosis.
Our bones deteriorate naturally as we age, but for some individuals there are outside factors that contribute to a higher risk of the rapid deterioration that leads to osteoporosis. Some of these additional risk factors include:
- Gender – Lower levels of estrogen, and the fact that females often have smaller bones in comparison to males put women, especially those over the age of 55, at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Women make up nearly 80% of all osteoporosis diagnoses in the US.
- Hormonal Changes – Certain hormones, like estrogen, protect the bone tissue in our bodies. Estrogen levels decrease as we age, and as the result of menopause, meaning the bones become increasingly vulnerable over time.
- Tobacco & Alcohol – Smoking and excessive use of alcohol have been shown to hinder healthy bone metabolism, decreasing levels of bone mineral density (BMD) and increasing the chance of fracture or injury.
- Nutrition – Low bone density is at times the result of nutritional deficiencies in our diet. Insufficient dietary calcium or, low levels of Vitamin D, can be contributing factors when it comes to osteoporosis. Maintaining healthy levels of these nutrients is essential for long-term bone health.
Treatment Options & Prevention
Patients who have previously suffered a break or bone injury are at an increased risk of advanced bone deterioration later on. But breaks, fractures and other bone injuries are not always treated with long-term bone health in mind. In response, South Shore Health has designed patient-specific screening and treatment programs, which prioritize bone health and promote preventative measures like proper nutrition and regular exercise.
This multi-disciplinary initiative, collectively referred to as the Bone Health program, utilizes unique patient-history algorithms to ensure that those at higher risk are offered regular bone density scans through their primary care providers. In addition, South Shore Health offers a variety of educational and outreach programs ranging from fitness and nutritional classes to ongoing support groups and informational sessions for patients.
Visit southshorehealth.org to learn more about the virtual Bone Health program or to find additional support for osteoporosis treatment and prevention.