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Weak Bones, Oh No! – Osteoporosis 101

By Dr. Larry Wu | May 4, 2018 | Industry Perspectives

Since a young age, our parents always stressed the value of having strong bones. They would say things like drink your milk and eat your veggies. You’ll grow up to have strong bones and muscles. Unfortunately, as we get older, having strong bones isn’t as simple as drinking milk. Age happens, and sometimes our bones fall victim to breaks due to osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that alters your bones. It happens when the body loses too much bone or makes too little bone. This causes bones to lose their honeycomb shape. This leaves them with larger spaces and less thickness. Less dense bones become weak. Weakness makes it easier for them to break. This could be from something as major as a fall or as minor as a cough.

The disease is serious and can greatly impact one’s quality of life. Especially because of how easy it is to break osteoporotic bones. For older patients, breaking a hip, or spine or wrist become much more common. These breaks can lead to bad pain, a stooped or hunched posture, height loss and sometimes even death.

What are the risk factors?

Unfortunately, brittle bones do not cause symptoms until you break a bone. People cannot feel their bones losing strength. But, there are things that increase one’s odds of getting the disease.

Being a woman

Women are more likely to get osteoporosis because they have thinner bones than men. They are also more prone to bone loss because of estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that protects bones but lowers when they go through menopause. To fight this, women should commit to getting enough calcium and vitamin D throughout their life.


Those who are older than 50 are more likely to get osteoporosis because bone mass decreases once people hit 30.

A diet low in calcium and vitamin D

Drinking your milk and eating veggies is vital. Calcium and Vitamin D work to build up bones. A diet low in these nutrients can raise the risk of osteoporosis and make people more prone to broken bones.

Family history

Osteoporosis is passed by genes. A family history of bone breaks and reduced bone mass will increase someone’s risk.

Body size

People who are thin have less body fat and thinner bones, making them more likely to get breaks.

Certain health conditions

Diseases and health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia nervosa, late onset of puberty and early menopause can greatly impact one’s bone health making them more likely to get osteoporosis.

Certain medications

Some drugs like glucocorticoids, anticonvulsants, anticlotting drugs, immune suppressant drugs and those used to treat prostate cancer can result in bone loss. Talk to your doctor if you’re taking these drugs and have a high risk of osteoporosis.

An inactive lifestyle

Low levels of motion can make people lose bone faster, an inactive lifestyle can also make people more prone to falls. Staying active 30 minutes a day, most days of the week can help prevent bone loss.

How is osteoporosis found?

The only way osteoporosis can be spotted before a bone breaks is through a bone density test. A bone strength test is used to estimate how dense an individual’s bones are. Bones can be categorized as normal, low or osteoporotic. Once tested, a doctor can find out whether you have osteoporosis or lower than average bone density. Lower density is called osteopenia, which is not as bad as osteoporosis. It can also measure if your bone density is getting better or if your medication is working.

A DXA test is the most common imaging test for osteoporosis. This test is painless and typically takes less than 15 minutes. All a person has to do is lay down on a padded platform. The DXA machine passes over your body. When this happens, the individual is exposed to very low levels of radiation. Most often, a larger machine is used to measure the bone density in the hips and spine. A smaller, portable machine will be used to measure the bone density in the arm or leg like fingers, wrists, and feet.

For patients without any risk factors, DXA testing is recommended at age 65 and older. Such screening tests for prevention are covered by your insurance and Medicare. Your doctor may suggest a bone density test at a younger age if one or more risk factors apply to you. The sooner osteoporosis is diagnosed, the sooner doctor intervention can happen.

How is osteoporosis treated?

If one is diagnosed with osteoporosis, their doctor will most likely order a medication based on your age, sex, overall health and severity of the condition. Recommended medications include bisphosphonates, and calcitonin and teriparatide if you cannot tolerate bisphosphonates.

Osteoporosis can be prevented. By keeping up a healthy diet, exercising often, avoiding smoking and too much alcohol and consuming the recommended amount of calcium and Vitamin D, you can build a strong and healthy bone structure and greatly reduce your risk for developing osteoporosis.

For more information on osteoporosis, talk to your doctor or visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s website.

Source:  National Osteoporosis Foundation