Osteoporosis: Symptoms, Risk Factors and Detection

“If you want strong bones, make sure you finish your milk.” An old, familiar saying that takes you back to the dinner table during your childhood! While it may have been some time since you considered your bone health, having strong bones is a lifelong pursuit and one that becomes even more important as you age.

From childhood to age 30, bone is formed faster than it is broken down. However, after age 30, bone is broken down faster than it is made. While it is normal for men and women to have a small amount of bone loss after age 35, too much bone loss can result in the development of Osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a disease where bones become fragile and are more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, Osteoporosis can painlessly progress. Sometimes, the first symptom of Osteoporosis is when a bone breaks. Fractures in individuals with Osteoporosis typically occur in the hip, spine or wrist.

While men can develop Osteoporosis, it is a disease that is more prevalent in women. In women ages 50 to 59, 40 percent have low bone mass (Osteopenia) and 10 percent have Osteoporosis. In women above age 80, those numbers significantly increase and 90 percent have low bone mass (Osteopenia) and 60 percent have Osteoporosis.

The risk factors for Osteoporosis vary and the cause is not always known. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing Osteoporosis. Listed below are some of the risk factors for Osteoporosis:

  • Increasing age/menopause
  • Loss of height
  • Low body weight
  • Low dietary Vitamin D
  • Smoking
  • Low dietary Calcium
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Prior fragility fracture
  • Family history of bone loss/fracture
  • Certain medications
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Endocrinopathies

Fortunately, there is a technology that can be used to evaluate bone density ideally before a fracture occurs. Bone density testing is performed by using a DXA scan, which is a diagnostic tool that evaluates bone loss by measuring the bone mineral content and density at specific bone sites, mainly the hip and the spine. Over time, an individual’s studies are compared to track bone loss as well as the effects of any treatments. Because the changes in bone growth or loss can be slight, it is important to have your studies on the same machine if at all possible.

Generally, it is recommended that women age 65 and older have a DXA scan. Some women, especially those that have one or more of the risk factors listed above, may need to begin screening at a younger age and should discuss her individual health and family history with her health care provider.

To learn more about bone density testing at Virginia Women’s Center, visit our website.

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