Osteoporosis weakens your bones and can cause them to break easily. The condition is particularly common in older people. In fact, more than 53 million people in the U.S. either have the disease or at high risk for developing it, according to the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center.
How does osteoporosis affect bones?
If you have osteoporosis, your bones gradually become less dense and more porous. You may also experience thinning in the outside edges of the long bones in your body. Because of these changes, it's very easy to break a bone if you fall, even if you don't fall very hard. Osteoporosis affects both sexes but is more common in women. If you're female, you're more likely to be affected by the disease because:
- Women's bones are generally smaller and thinner than men's.
- Estrogen, a hormone that helps protect bones, decreases at menopause.
- Women tend to live longer than men. The longer you live, the more likely you'll develop osteoporosis-related problems.
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
In the early stages of the disease, you probably won't notice any changes. Symptoms generally don't occur unless your bones have weakened considerably. If you have osteoporosis, you may notice:
- You are shorter than you once were.
- Your posture has changed, and it's hard to stand perfectly upright without stooping.
- You have back pain due to compression fractures in your vertebrae.
- Your bones break easily.
- Dental X-rays show that you've lost bone in your jaw.
How is osteoporosis treated?
Although your bones will never be as strong or as dense as they were when you were younger, treatment is available to strengthen your bones and prevent breaks. Your doctor can prescribe medication that will slow the rate of bone break down and reduce your risk of fractures. In addition to taking medication, it's important to participate in weight-bearing activity and exercises that strengthen your bones and help improve your balance. Eating a diet high in calcium and taking supplements that contain calcium and vitamin D can also help protect your bones.
If you're concerned that you may have osteoporosis, talk to your OB/GYN about your risk factors and symptoms. Prompt treatment is the key to preventing the potentially serious consequences of this disease.