Bones are growing, living tissue and undergo a continuous cycle of being lost and replaced. Losing too much or growing too little bone tissue can result in low bone mass, and increased risk or progression of osteoporosis. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, that is the case for about 54 million Americans today.
“Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and fragile, making them more susceptible to breaks and fractures,” says Wilber Estrada, M.D., a board-certified internist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Sienna Plantation Clinic. “When a bone does break is too often when patients first learn they have this silent disease. It’ll sneak up on you.”
Dr. Estrada says some people may also notice they’re getting shorter or developing a hunchback. Otherwise, osteoporosis is relatively painless and asymptomatic, because people can’t feel their bones getting weaker.
Osteoporosis could cause any bone in the body to break, although it typically occurs in the hip, wrist or spine, he explains. Studies indicate that half of all women and one-in-four men age 50 or older will experience breakage resulting from osteoporosis. In addition to millions of broken bones and billions in healthcare costs every year, osteoporosis also takes an emotional toll on those who have it.
Is There a Weak Bone in Your Body?
Osteoporosis can affect people of all ages, but is more common among older people. It also occurs more often in women than men and their risk is greater if they’re thin and highest if they’re Caucasian or Asian. People whose family members have osteoporosis, low bone mass and brittle bones are also more likely to have the same conditions.
According to Dr. Estrada, osteoporosis may also be tied to a spectrum of autoimmune, hormonal, mental and physiological disorders and diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to prostate cancer.
“It’s important to remember that being at lower risk does not equate to immunity,” he says. “Not every woman or older person will develop osteoporosis, and others less at risk certainly could. For everyone – men and women of any age, ethnicity and size – the risk of osteoporosis increases with age.”
Let Others Help You Help Yourself
Internists and physicians from a number of other specialists can help evaluate patients’ risk of osteoporosis and, if applicable, develop the right treatment plan for them. They’ll likely look at patient medical history, height changes and the body for signs of prior broken bones. Physicians will also screen patients with a bone density test, a type of X-ray, to evaluate bone strength.
“If you’re highly at risk for osteoporosis or suspect you have it, the best course of action is to consult a physician and get screened as soon as possible,” Dr. Estrada advises. “Early detection is the key to helping prevent bone tissue loss – all statistics aside, it’s never a bad time to take better care of your bones.”