Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is a disease in which there is a loss of bone mass and destruction of bone tissue. This process causes weakening of the bones and makes them more likely to break. The bones most often affected are the hips, spine, and wrists.

This is a crippling and life-shortening condition that affects millions of women. However, it is often not diagnosed until a fracture occurs. It is possible to diagnose osteoporosis beforehand with a sensitive screening device called a DEXA, which measures bone density in the hip and spine. It is painless and only takes a few minutes. Many doctors recommend that women have a bone density evaluation after age 50 so that preventive treatment can take place if needed.

Osteoporosis affects over 10 million Americans, with women four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Another 34 million have low bone mass and therefore have an increased risk for osteoporosis. Estrogen deficiency is one of the main causes of bone loss in women during and after menopause. Women may lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause.

Although the exact medical cause for osteoporosis is unknown, a number of factors contribute to osteoporosis, including aging, race, body weight and lifestyle factors. Some of the most common lifestyle factors contributing to osteoporosis are:

  • physical inactivity
  • caffeine
  • excessive alcohol use
  • smoking
  • dietary calcium and vitamin D deficiency
  • certain medications
  • family history of bone disease

Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease" because persons with osteoporosis may not develop any symptoms. Some may have pain in their bones and muscles, particularly in their back. Occasionally, a collapsed vertebra may cause severe pain, decrease in height, or deformity in the spine.

The symptoms of osteoporosis may resemble other bone disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. 

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for osteoporosis may include the following:

  • family medical history
  • x-rays (skeletal) - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • bone density test (Also called bone densitometry.) - measurement of the mass of bone in relation to its volume to determine the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • blood tests (to measure serum calcium and potassium levels)

The effects of this disease can best be managed with early diagnosis and treatment. Our diagnostic centers provide bone density screenings for men and women. Bone densitometry testing is primarily performed to identify persons with osteoporosis and osteopenia (decreased bone mass) so that the appropriate medical therapy and treatment can be implemented. Early treatment helps to prevent future bone fractures. It may also be recommended for persons who have already fractured and are considered at risk for osteoporosis.

Once diagnosed, specific treatment for osteoporosis will be determined by your physician based on your age, overall health, and medical history, the extent of the disease, your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies, the expectations for the course of the disease and your opinion or preference.

The goals of managing osteoporosis are to decrease pain, prevent fractures, and minimize further bone loss. Some of the methods used to treat osteoporosis are also the methods to help prevent it from developing, including the following:

  • Maintain an appropriate body weight.
  • Increase walking and other weight-bearing exercises.
  • Minimize caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Maintain an adequate intake of calcium through diet and supplements. Vitamin D is also necessary because it facilitates the absorption of calcium.
  • Prevent falls in the elderly to prevent fractures (i.e., install hand railings, or assistive devices in the bathroom, shower, etc.).
  • Consult your physician regarding a medication regimen.

An osteoporosis rehabilitation program is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending upon the type and severity of the disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.

The goal of rehabilitation is to help the patient to return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life—physically, emotionally, and socially. The focus of rehabilitation is to decrease pain, help prevent fractures, and minimize further bone loss.

To find a Methodist Healthcare-affiliated physician in Memphis, Tennessee, please use our physician locator or call 888.777.5959.