Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by having low bone density that causes bones to be more fragile and susceptible to fracture. Osteopenia is when you have lower than average bone density but not low enough to be osteoporosis.
Low bone density — or weak bones — is a major risk factor for the development of spine fractures that can cause pain and disability as well as a condition called kyphosis that causes a hunched over back.
FAQs About Osteoporosis
Continue reading below to learn more about osteoporosis or click on one of these links to go directly to the information you are interested in.
Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis?
Being a female is the No. 1 risk factor for in both diseases. Osteoporosis affects a third of all women. Yet osteoporosis is not just a women’s disease as a fifth of men suffer from it. Other risk factors include:
- Being older than 50
- Being postmenopausal
- Having a family history of osteoporosis
- Being Caucasian or Asian
- Having a previous fracture
- Being a smoker or former smoker
- Having a vitamin D deficiency
What can I do to reduce my risk of osteoporosis?
Ensuring that you have adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus is important to your bone health and reducing your risk of osteoporosis. Engaging in weightbearing exercises consistently is also important to preventing fractures and improving your bone health. Weightbearing exercises like running or walking regularly help preserve bon mineral density (BMD).
At any age, it’s important to work with your primary care physician to ensure you don’t have estrogen deficiency, which can be caused by eating disorders, over exercising, and other secondary causes.
Eliminating cigarette smoking and keeping your alcohol intake to 3 drinks or less per day will also reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Most of the time, osteoporosis is not discovered until a patient sustains a fracture, especially spine fractures. However, people at risk of osteoporosis should talk with their healthcare provider about getting a bone density test.
A DEXA scan is the most common diagnostic test performed to identify bone density, bone loss, and ultimately diagnose osteoporosis. A DEXA scan is a non-invasive imaging test that measures bone mineral content. A DEXA scan is often recommended for people 50 or older, those who have suffered a spinal or lumbar fracture, or people with risk factors for osteoporosis.
At the Neurosurgery One Spine Fracture & Bone Health Clinic, we also use a FRAX score to predict the 10-year risk of developing an osteoporotic fracture. The FRAX score is compiled of questions based on family history, risk factors, and bone mineral density.
For lumbar spine fractures, measuring the Hounsfield Units of a CT scan also can be effective in assessing bone mineral density and identifying osteoporosis.
Why are women more susceptible to osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures?
As women age, they naturally lose estrogen, an important component in bone health. The loss of estrogen escalates after menopause. While men also have estrogen, it plays a lesser role in their overall health. In addition, most women naturally have lighter and smaller bones than men, which can make them more susceptible to fractures.
What are causes of secondary osteoporosis?
Secondary osteoporosis is a term used to describe osteoporosis that is a result of a disease or use of particular medications used to treat health conditions. There are many causes of secondary osteoporosis. Some of the more common are:
- Cushing’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory conditions of the bowel or malabsorptive bowel diseases
- Chronic renal insufficiency
- Long term use of glucocorticoids and some anti-epileptics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
Can osteoporosis and osteopenia be treated?
Yes, osteoporosis and osteopenia can be treated with a variety of therapies, including exercise, diet, and medications. People with osteoporosis or who are at risk of developing osteoporosis can be assessed and treated in the Neurosurgery One Spine Fracture & Bone Health Clinic. Patients we treat see results in six weeks to three months. Learn more about our Spine Fracture & Bone Health Clinics in Littleton and Lakewood, Colo.