About Bone Health - Loma Linda University Medical Center

About Bone Health

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile or thin, and thus more likely to break. Osteoporosis usually progresses painlessly until a bone breaks, typically in the hip, spine and wrist.  In some cases, a bone break can occur from a minor fall or even a sneeze.  

Who needs to worry about Osteoporosis?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, eighty percent of those affected by osteoporosis are women and a major health threat to people 50 years of age and older. After the mid-30s people begin to slowly lose bone, that’s why it is recommended to discuss osteoporosis as part of routine checkups with a physician.

What are the risk factors for Osteoporosis?

There are several risk factors for osteoporosis including aging, gender (being female), low body weight and low sex hormones such as during menopause. Other contributing factors include a family history of osteoporosis or broken bones, smoking and excessive alcohol use. Some medications such as steroid medications and some anticonvulsants can also play a role.  Certain diseases and conditions such as anorexia nervosa, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases and others are also known to increase the risk of osteoporosis.

How is Osteoporosis diagnosed?

Too often this silent disease isn’t diagnosed until a bone break.  There are several tests a physician can order such as a bone mineral density test (BMD). Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are.
 
Another common osteoporosis test is dual X-ray absorptometry (DXA or DEXA), which measures people’s spine, hip, or total body bone density to help gauge fracture risk. Other tests include ultrasound and quantitative computed tomography (QCT).  A physician may also order a blood or urine test to see the metabolism of the bone to provide clues as to the progression of the disease.  

How is Osteoporosis treated?

Because there are usually no symptoms until you fracture a bone, early prevention is the best course.  This includes taking calcium and vitamin D as well as regular weight bearing and muscle- strengthening exercises.

Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, it can be treated with several FDA approved medications.  Only a physician can prescribe these medications based on the patient’s condition.  

What is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia is when the bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than normal peak BMD but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are. Having osteopenia means there is a greater risk that it may develop into osteoporosis.

Who needs to worry about Osteopenia?

All people begin losing bone mass after they reach peak BMD at about 30 years of age. Osteopenia or osteoporosis takes longer to develop the thicker your bones are at about age 30.

Because women have a lower peak BMD, they are more likely to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis than men. And the loss of bone mass speeds up in women as hormonal changes take place at the time of menopause.

What causes Osteopenia?

Starting in middle age, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone is made. This causes the bones to lose minerals, heaviness (mass), and structure, making them weaker and increasing their risk of breaking.

The risk factors for developing osteopenia--and eventually osteoporosis---include a family history of osteoporosis, being thin, being white or Asian, limited physical activity, smoking, regularly drinking cola drinks, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Other risk factors are eating disorders, chemotherapy and exposure to radiation.  

How is Osteopenia diagnosed?

Just like osteoporosis, osteopenia is a silent disease with no visible symptoms and is too often diagnosed when a bone breaks.  

There are several tests a physician can order such as a bone mineral density test (BMD). Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are.
 
Another common osteoporosis test is dual X-ray absorptometry (DXA or DEXA), which measures people’s spine, hip, or total body bone density to help gauge fracture risk. Other tests include ultrasound and quantitative computed tomography (QCT).  A physician may also order a blood or urine test to see the metabolism of the bone to provide clues as to the progression of the disease.  

How is Osteopenia treated?

Prevention and treatment of osteopenia includes regular exercise, a nutritious diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol.