Osteoporosis is a silent disease that affects your bones. It is silent because you often donít know you have it. It means bones so brittle that even a hug from your loved ones or an every day task like picking up the laundry basket can mean a broken bone or fracture. Osteoporosis affects some 2 million Canadians and 10 million Americans over the age of 50, mostly women. Even more concerning is that many more people may not know that they are at risk or have osteoporosis until itís too late.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is when your bones are porous and brittle, causing them to break more easily. Healthy bones are strong and quite dense, able to carry the body through its daily tasks. With osteoporosis, the bones are weakened so severely that it can be risky to do just about anything. Among the most common injuries for older adults are hip and wrist fractions. With age comes longer times for healing but sometimes the osteoporosis has advanced to such a degree that the bones are virtually beyond repair. This means immobility and poor overall health.
Why and how does it happen?
Our bones require calcium to keep them strong and dense. When we donít get enough calcium the bones become porous and brittle. Bones are unable to generate their own calcium. Calcium is obtained from a variety of food sources and/or supplements. Unfortunately, most people do not get enough calcium over their lifetimes. A teenager requires about three to five servings of calcium products each day to ensure they are getting enough. More often than not these requirements are not met due to poor dietary choices.
During the teen years, the bones tend to store up the largest amounts of calcium. Itís sort of like a bank deposit for your bones; the bones will use up the calcium within the bones for strength. When no calcium is available to replace what is being used, the bones become weak. As we age, our bones need to draw on all of that stored up calcium.
We lose our bone density at faster rates as we age, and need to replace the calcium in our bones. Even most adults need between two and four servings of calcium a day but are not getting enough. Without sufficient calcium, the bones are unable to cope well with the wear and tear of daily living.
Can I tell if I have osteoporosis?
That is one of the biggest problems with osteoporosis in that there are no real symptoms or obvious signs. There are no indications of pain for example. Eventually, there may be fractures that occur in the spine, the hip, the wrist, or even the ribs. By then it is too late and osteoporosis is very much present. Sometimes older people appear stooped over and this is more proof that they have osteoporosis but by this time the damage has occurred.
One of the ways to deal with osteoporosis is to understand that it is likely to affect just about all of us. Some of us will be at greater risk for osteoporosis and knowing those risk factors can be part of an action plan of prevention or at least slowing down the process. Over the next couple of weeks, weíll take a look at understanding those risk factors and how osteoporosis is detected. Weíll also see what can be done to help offset the devastating effects of osteoporosis and how to deal with it once it has been diagnosed.
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