Loss of bone mass occurs during the aging process, and a small amount of bone loss is normal.
When your body loses too much bone or makes too little of it, however, you have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to dangerous fractures.
People with osteoporosis have weaker bones with lower bone density and abnormal tissue structure. These bones are more likely to break and, in severe cases, will do so at the slightest bump or pressure.
Facts About Fractures
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 1.5 million Americans suffer a fracture due to bone disease each year. The risk of fracture increases with age and is greatest in women (though lower in African-American women than Caucasians).
In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all women and one in four men will break a bone after the age of 50 due to osteoporosis. Fractures are most common in the hip, spine or wrist. By 2020, half of all Americans over the age of 50 are expected to be at risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis and, by 2025, experts predict that Americans will suffer three million fractures due to osteoporosis — at a cost of more than $25 billion per year.
Age is not the only risk factor for osteoporosis. The following conditions can increase the risk for bone loss: autoimmune disorders (such as lupus), digestive and GI disorders (such as celiac disease), eating disorders, cancer, blood and bone marrow disorders, AIDS/HIV, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, and even mental illnesses such as depression. The long-term use of steroids and some other medications can also contribute to bone loss.
Symptoms of Bone Loss
During the early stages of bone loss, there are no obvious symptoms. However, as bones become weakened, you may experience back pain, a loss of height, a stooped posture and, of course, bone fractures that occur more easily than expected.
What You Can Do Now
You can prevent bone loss and promote good bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation notes that: “You’re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones.”
The Foundation recommends having a well-balanced diet that includes sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D (starting in childhood), exercising regularly, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, not smoking (or quitting if you do) and limiting alcohol to two to three drinks per day.
The Mayo Clinic notes that people who have a sedentary lifestyle are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, and notes that walking, running, jumping, dancing and weight lifting all promote good bone health.
A bone density test will tell you how healthy your bones are and whether you are at risk for a fracture. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends testing for women ages 65 or older, men ages 70 or older, anyone who has broken a bone after the age of 50, and others, such as menopausal women, who exhibit multiple risk factors.
If you have osteoporosis, your provider may recommend medication to slow or stop bone loss, or rebuild bone, based on your age, your gender and the severity of your condition.