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skeleton Osteoporosis is a condition of decreased bone mass. This leads to fragile bones which are at an increased risk for fractures. In fact, it will take much less stress to an osteoporotic bone to cause it to fracture. The term "porosis" means spongy, which describes the appearance of osteoporosis bones when they are broken in half and the inside is examined. Osteoporosis or porous bone, is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist.

Osteoporosis is a major public heath threat for more than 28 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. In the U.S. today, 10 million individuals already have the diesease and 18 million more have low bone mass placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Eight million American women and two million men have osteoporosis, and millions more have low bone density. One in two women and one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person's disease, it can strike at any age. Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including: 300,000 hip fractures and approximately 700,000 vertebral fracture, 250,000 wrist frctures, and 300,000 fractures at other sites. The rate of hip fractures is two to three times higher in women than men, however the one year mortality following a hip frcture is nearly twice as high for men as for women.

In 1991, about 300,000 Americans age 45 and over were admitted to the hospital with hip fractures. Osteoporosis was the underlying cause of most of these injuries. An average of 24% of hip fracture patients age 50 and over die in the year following their fracture. One-fourth of those who were ambulatory before their hip fracture required long-term care afterward.

Osteoporosis if often called the "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have the disease until their bones become so weak that sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. Collapsed vertebrae may initially be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as kyphosis or stooped posture.

Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporsis than others. The following risk factors have been identified: Being female thin and/or small frame, advanced age, a family history of osteoporosis, being postmenopause, including early or surgically induced menopause, abnormal absence of menstral period, anorexia, nervosa, or bulimia, a diet of low in calcium, use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants, low testosterone levels in men, an inactive lifestyle, cigarette smoking and use of alcohol.

Specialized bone densitiy tests can measure bone density in various sites of the body. A bone density test can (1) detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs, (2) predict chances of fracturing in the future, (3) determine rate of bone loss and/or (4) monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more.

There are ways to prevent osteoporosis. Don't smoke, smoking increases bone loss, perhaps by decreasing the amount of estrogen your body makes and reducing the absorption of calcium in your intestine. One study showed that postmenopausal women who smoked didn’t gain the usual protection against bone loss from estrogen replacement therapy. In addition, smokers tend to enter menopause earlier than nonsmokers. Build maximum peak bone mass. The higher you peak bone mass, the less likely you'll be to have fractures later in life.

Although there is no cure for this disease, there are four medications approved by the FDA for postmenopausal women to either prevent and/or treat osteoporosis: (1) estrogens are approved for both prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, (2) Alendronate, a bisphosphonate, is approved for prevention and treatment; (3) Salmon calcitonin is approved for postmenopausal women who cannot tolerate estrogen or for whom estrogen is not an option; and (4) Raloxifene, a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM), is also approved. Treatments under investigation include sodium fluoride, vitamin D metabolites, parathyroid hormone, and other bisphosphonates and SERM's. Posture, balance, and the prevention of falls are also important components of any treatment plan for osteoporosis.

It's never too late to protect your bones. It’s true that the things we do now will catch up to us later in life. While drinking milk can help, exercising and eating well-balanced meals is also very important.

What’s Ahead? Because our population is getting older and is also showing effects from being sedentary and overweight, we anticipate that the incidence of osteoporosis will increase. There will be a growing need to prevent and treat this condition. We will be attempting to provide a useful source of information for staying updated on current prevention and treatment approaches.

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The information about senior health presented here is not meant to be medical advice nor to act as a substitute for medical advice. Serious side-effects, including death, could result if one were to take any prescription medicine without the supervision of a physician.

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