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The literal definition of osteoporosis is porous bones. It is caused by a depletion of calcium and minerals in the bones. When bones become less dense they can get brittle, weak and fragile. The porous bones can actually compress like a sponge. This results in bone fractures from doing things that would not normally harm bones, such as coughing or even just bending over. Osteoporosis affects men and women alike, though most people think of osteoporosis as a disease that affects only women.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

When the bones become brittle they are prone to fracture, especially in the hips, wrist or spine. It is hard to recognize osteoporosis until the condition is already advanced. There are not many recognizable symptoms early in life. Once a bone fractures the condition will be detected.

The fracture from osteoporosis will usually be very painful. If the fracture is in the spine it can cause a pain along the back and sides of the body in a severe band-aid like affect. After years of weakening of the vertebra in the spine, the spine will eventually start to curve into a hunched-back appearance. This generally occurs in women and is called the dowager hump. Spinal fractures can also lead to pain in the lower back.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation has developed a recommendation of when a bone density test should be taken. This test can determine whether or not a person's bones are becoming brittle, a precursor to developing osteoporosis. The Foundation has determined that any woman over age 65 and any man over age 70 should have the test, along with anyone over the age of 50 that has a history of broken bones. Post menopausal women who are not taking hormone replacement therapy or who have a risk factor for the condition should also take the test. Certain medications, such as prednisone and anti-seizure drugs increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Risks of Osteoporosis

A person with osteoporosis can experience very painful fractures which could result in disability. This usually happens at a time of life when the person is ready to retire and enjoy their elderly years. Many people with osteoporosis end up in nursing homes. Because of the constant bed rest, medical conditions associated with bed rest can occur, resulting in a risk of death. Some patients develop pneumonia and dangerous blood clots. Statistics also show that:

·20 percent of women who suffer a hip fracture due to osteoporosis will have problems in future years resulting in death.

·If a person has a spine fracture due to osteoporosis they will have a higher risk of having another fracture in the next few years.

These issues have a direct bearing on the quality of life of a person with osteoporosis. It also impacts healthcare costs especially as the baby-boomers, the largest segment of the population in American, are ageing. The health care cost could exceed a billion dollars in the United States related to osteoporosis alone. In the United States, it is estimated that 55 percent of the population that is 50 years old and older have low bone density. Caucasian women are at the highest risk for osteoporosis, with one-half of the women estimated to have an osteoporosis-related bone fracture. Women of color tend to have low osteoporosis risk factors.

Bone density in a person's later years has a direct correlation to the amount of bone mass the person has in their twenties and thirties, and how fast that density is lost in later years. The more bone mass, the less likely it is that osteoporosis will develop. That is one reason why many physicians recommend weight-bearing exercise as a way to develop and maintain healthy bone mass. Osteoporosis is also affected by the amount of calcium and minerals are in the body through a healthy diet. Calcium is found in many foods, and as a person ages a supplement may be required.

The level of hormones in a woman also affects bone mass and density. When estrogen drops, bone loss increases.

Osteoporosis Medication and Treatment

Calcitonin may slow the loss of bone and prevent spine fractures. It is a natural hormone that is produced in the thyroid gland. It has been shown to slow bone loss. Calcitonin is usually taken as a nasal spray, but is also available in as an injection for people who are prone to nasal irritation with sprays. It is generally reserved for people who cannot take other medications.

Bisphosphonates are like estrogen. The medication will preserve bone mass and density and reduce the risk of potential fractures. Bisphosphonates include medications called Fosomax, Boniva, Actonel, and Reclast. They can be useful to men and to people who have osteoporosis due to steroid use.

Teriparatide, also known as Forteo, is used to treat postmenopausal women and high risk men who have the potential for fractures due to osteoporosis. It is taken by injection in the abdomen or on the thigh under the skin. It is recommended for use for only two years as studies are still being performed on the powerful drug.
Hormone replacement therapy is also used to control osteoporosis by increasing bone density to prevent bone loss and fractures. Estrogen is taken orally and brand names include Premarin, Estrace, Estratest, and the skin patch Estraderm.

A person's medical history should be discussed with the physician to determine which osteoporosis medication is best for them. Key risk factors for osteoporosis include genetics, lack of vitamin D, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, excessive drinking alcohol, and a history of rheumatoid arthritis.