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Definition

Bone loss or Osteopenia occurs when the body does not create a new bone as quickly as the old bone is reabsorbed. Osteopenia is the early stage of bone loss which can eventually lead to Osteoporosis – gradual weakening of the bones over time. In many cases, if a person's bones are weak, a mere sneeze or a bout of cough is enough to break a rib.

Symptoms

While bone loss occurs gradually and in many cases may not show any signs at all, Osteopenia eventually leading to Osteoporosis, may have the following early signs of development:

1. Hunching or stooped posture

2. Frequent backaches

3. Loss of bone in the jaw

4. Weakness from a previous injury or fracture

Risk Factors

You may be at risk for Osteopenia or Osteoporosis if you:

  • Are a female
  • Consume heavy amounts of alcohol
  • Consume less calcium-rich diets
  • Smoke
  • Have a thin body frame
  • Have an early menopause
  • Have a history of anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder caused by a unexplained fear of food) in the family
  • Lead an inactive lifestyle
  • Have a history of Osteoporosis in the family

If you have any/some/all of the aforementioned symptoms, a visit to your doctor is strongly advised.

Diagnosis

The main way to understand and diagnose whether you have signs of Osteopenia or Osteoporosis is to have your bone density measured. 80% of the bone density can be determined by heredity and 20% by lifestyle choices. Age 30 is the peak of your bone health, where your bones reach their maximum strength – this is known as peak bone mass.

There are a number of ways in which your doctor can check your bone density.

1. DEXA Scan or a Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry

2. Ultrasound

3. Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT)

4. Bone Densitometry

5. Blood Tests

Treatment

The treatment for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis ranges from making lifestyle adjustments to mild to strong medication.

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Include calcium-rich foods in your diet
  • Weight-bearing exercises are recommended for strengthening of the bones
  • Refrain from toxic habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption

Medication:

Bisphosphonates are the most common medications prescribed for osteoporosis treatment. These include:

  • Alendronate (Fosamax)
  • Risedronate (Actonel)
  • Ibandronate (Boniva)
  • Zoledronic acid (Reclast)

Hormones, such as estrogen, and some hormone-like medications approved for preventing and treating osteoporosis, such as raloxifene (Evista), also play a role in osteoporosis treatment. However, fewer women use estrogen replacement therapy now because it may increase the risk of heart attacks and some types of cancer.

Denosumab (Prolia) is a newer medication shown to reduce the risk of osteoporotic fracture in women and men. Unrelated to bisphosphonates, denosumab might be used in people who can't take a bisphosphonate, such as some people with reduced kidney function.

Teriparatide (Forteo) is typically reserved for men and postmenopausal women who have very low bone density, who have had fractures or whose osteoporosis is caused by steroid medication. Teriparatide is the only osteoporosis medication that has the potential to rebuild bone and actually reverse osteoporosis, at least somewhat.

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