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Common Ailments ~ Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis

Loss of bone tissue, resulting in bones that are brittle and susceptible to fracture.

As people get older, their bones become thinner and lighter. This gradual decrease of bone density, known as osteoporosis, is a result of an imbalance between the natural breakdown and replacement of bone. Throughout your life, calcium is continually added to and subtracted from your bones. Cells called osteoclasts absorb old bone tissue, while cells known as osteoblasts lay down new bone tissue. Ideally, this process is kept in equilibrium by a number of hormones and other substances that maintain the bones in maximum strength and health. People who are thin, who do little exercise, and whose relatives have osteoporosis are likely to develop the condition to a greater degree than others.

Many people do not realise that they have osteoporosis until they fracture a wrist or hip as a result of a minor fall.

What are the Causes?

Sex hormones are necessary for bone replacement. In both men and women, osteoporosis begins to develop as sex hormone production declines with age. Any condition that causes this decline to accelerate can increase the severity of age-related osteoporosis. In women, production of the sex hormone oestrogen declines rapidly at the menopause. Early menopause, which tends to occur in women who smoke, increases the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis may also occur as a result of long-term treatment with oral corticosteroids.

Exercise is essential to maintain bone health. The density of bones declines rapidly in people who are confined to bed and in those whose daily activity is reduced by disorders such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Osteoporosis sometimes runs in families. Women who have a close relative with osteoporosis are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. White and Asian women, especially those who have a slight build, are at increased risk of developing the condition.

What is the medical treatment?

The diagnosis will be made from your medical history and an examination. Bone densitometry, X-rays, and blood tests may also be performed to exclude other causes of symptoms, such as osteomalacia.

If you have back pain due to a fracture, your doctor may recommend that you take painkillers or use a heat pad. Underlying disorders will be treated if possible. For example, you mat be prescribed drugs to treat an overactive thyroid gland.

Most drugs simply slow the rate of bone loss, although there is evidence that biphosphates reduce the risk of fractures.

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