The bones of people with osteoporosis become thin and weak. The word “osteo” comes from the Greek osteon meaning “bone”, while “porosis” comes from the Greek poros meaning “hole, passage”. According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, osteoporosis is a “reduction in the quantity of bone or atrophy of skeletal tissue; an age-related disorder characterized by decreased bone mass and loss of normal skeletal microarchitecture, leading to increased susceptibility to fractures.”
About 3 million people have osteoporosis in the UK, causing approximately 230,000 fractures each year, according to the National Health Service (NHS). Osteoporosis is a public health threat for an estimated 44 million people in the USA, 55% of people aged 50 or over, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). The NOF says that 10 million people currently have osteoporosis, while 34 million are thought to have low bone mass; which places them at significantly increased risk for the condition.
As people are living longer and leading more sedentary lives, the incidence of osteoporosis is expected to continue rising. This study reports that policy makers and funding agencies do not always consider this development sufficiently in their planning.
If osteoporosis is not prevented, or if it is left untreated, it can progress without causing any pain until a bone breaks – most likely the hip bone, a bone in the spine, or the wrist. A hip fracture invariably requires hospitalization and major surgery. Hip fractures generally lead to serious walking disability and sometimes death if left untreated. Fractures of the spine or vertebrae can sometimes result in loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
German scientists have elucidated a molecular mechanism which regulates the equilibrium between bone formation and bone resorption. They were able to show that two different forms of a gene switch – a short isoform and a long isoform – determine this process
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis develops very slowly over a period of many years. The condition may creep up on the patient without any obvious symptoms initially – it can take several months, and even several years to become noticeable. Early signs of osteoporosis may include:
Difficulty sitting up straight. The stooping position often seen among elderly people is a visible sign of possible osteoporosis.
As the person’s bone density or bone mass continues to go down fractures of the hip, wrist or bones in the spine become more common. Even a cough or a sneeze may fracture a rib or cause partial collapse of one of the spinal bones.
Elderly people suffer greatly if they fracture a bone, because the bone cannot repair itself properly. Bones that do not effectively repair themselves are more likely to trigger arthritis, eventually leaving the patient seriously disabled. A large percentage of elderly patients who break a bone are not able to live independently afterwards.
Although osteoporosis is not painful in itself, the condition causes bones to break more easily, and broken bones are very painful. The most common cause of chronic pain linked to osteoporosis is a spinal fracture.
What are the risk factors for osteoporosis? What diseases or conditions may be linked to osteoporosis?
A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chances of developing a disease or condition. A number of factors can raise the probability of developing osteoporosis. They include:
The patient’s sex – women are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as men. Experts say there are two reasons for this: 1. Women start life with a lower bone life than men. 2. Women live longer than men. 3. The menopause causes a sudden drop in estrogen in women which speeds up bone loss.
Age – a person’s bone mass lowers each year as he/she gets old. The falling bone mass continues until the person dies.
Vertigo – Korean scientists found a link between people who suffer from vertigo and osteoporosis.
HIV – people with HIV/AIDS have a significantly higher risk of developing osteoporosis, as this study found.
Gastric cancer – many surviving gastric cancer patients might suffer from osteoporosis and be at risk of developing multiple fractures in their later life, this article explains.
Ethnicity – people who are Caucasian, or of South Asian descent are more likely to develop osteoporosis than people of African or North/South American Indian descent. However, the risk is still significant for everybody.
Family history – people who have a close relative – parent or sibling) who has/had osteoporosis are much more likely to develop it themselves. This is especially the case if the close relative had fractures. A study found that a gene called DARC negatively regulates bone density in mice.
People with small frames – people who have small body frames, as well as people who are very thin tend to have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis when they get older. This is because their bone mass is lower than other people’s when they start to age and bone density begins to fall.
Smoking – people who smoke run a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Experts are not completely sure why.
Estrogen exposure – women who have a late menopause, when estrogen levels drop significantly, have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis compared to women whose menopause arrives early or at an average age. Conversely, women whose menopause arrived early are at a higher risk.
Anorexia and/or bulimia – people of both sexes who have, or have had eating disorders have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. International Osteoporosis Foundation warns of bone damage from anorexia.
Cardiovascular disease and possibly Alzheimer’s disease link – a research project at Rice University has brought scientists to the brink of comprehending a long-standing medical mystery that may link cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.
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