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All About Osteoporosis
osteoporosis is a common disease that bothers old age women. What is it that causes osteoporosis? read on to find out.
What is it?
Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone". It is a situation that occurs when bones become fragile and prone to fracture.

What causes it?
A bone is fibrous collagen made of minerals-mainly calcium salts-rather like reinforced concrete. It has a thick outer shell and a strong inner honey-comb-like mesh made up of tiny, struts. Osteoporosis occurs when some of these struts become thin or break.

So, how does that happen? Simple! The bones have two types of cells- construction cells that build new bones and demolition cells that break down old ones. When we are younger, say in our twenties and thirties, the construction cells work harder, building strength into our skeleton. But from 40 onwards, they slow down, allowing the demolition cells to take over resulting in thinner struts.

The process increases in women after menopause. This is because the ovaries stop producing the female sex hormone -oestrogen, which is one of the substances that help keep bones strong. Men suffer less from osteoporosis, because their peak bone mass is more than that of women, with bigger skeletons.

Risk factors

Old age
As we get older, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases, which is why elder people are likely to break bones when they fall.

Low oestrogen
Women who have had early menopause (before the age of 45), or a hysterectomy where one or both ovaries have been removed are at risk.

Lack of exercise
Exercise keeps bones strong; so anyone who does not exercise, or cannot due to an illness or disability, is likely to develop osteoporosis.

Poor Diet
A diet, poor in calcium, encourages osteoporosis.

Heavy Smoking
Tobacco lowers the oestrogen level in women and may cause early menopause.

Heavy Drinking
A high alcohol intake reduces the ability of the body's cells to make bones.

Steroids (Cortisone)
Long-term use can cause osteoporosis.

Family History
Osteoporosis runs in families due to some inherited factors affecting bone development.

Previous Fractures
People who have had a low impact fracture are at greater risk. So are people who become shorter due to crush fractures in the spine.

Medical conditions
Disease of the gut affecting calcium absorption from food also predispose to osteoporosis.

Consequences
There are no obvious signs of osteoporosis because no one can see the bones get thinner. It can therefore go unnoticed for years. Quite often the first indication is when someone breaks his or her bones, in what would normally have been a minor accident. Fractures are most likely to the hip, spine or wrist. Spinal problems occur if-as the bones in the spine (vertebrae) become weak-crush together.

How is it diagnosed?
The only way of diagnosing osteoporosis before a fracture is, by doing a special scan to test the strength or density of bones. The test is called Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan and is now available at quite a few hospitals and diagnostic centres in the country. The results categorize the bone density and confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis as per the criteria laid down by the WHO (World Health Organisation).

Prevention
There is a great deal that can be done at different stages in your life to guard against osteoporosis.

Healthy Diet
Children and adults need a diet, with right amount of calcium. The best sources are milk, cheese, yogurt and other milk products besides brown bread, beans and other vegetables. A daily intake of 1000 mg of Calcium and 1500 mg in adults above 60 is also recommended.

Children's exercise
Children should actively participate in sports or other forms of exercise to help strengthen their bones.

Adult exercise
For the same reason, adults should keep physically active all the way into retirement. Choose 'weight bearing exercises that is, any activity that involves walking or running.

And, avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

Treatment
Calcium and Vitamin D-Elderly people may benefit from taking small, daily amounts of Vitamin D, along with 1000 mg of calcium. Stronger vitamin D preparations are sometimes used to treat osteoporosis in younger people.

Calcitonin
This is a substance produced naturally by the body and helps keeps the bone healthy. In certain cases, when used as treatment for osteoporosis, it has enabled the bones to grow stronger. It can either administered as an injection or more recently, as a nasal spray.

Bisphosphonates
These are a class of drugs that slow the normal process of bone loss and are effective in treating osteoporosis. Calcium therapy is continued along with bisphosphonate therapy.

Finally, leading an active healthy life and maintaining a diet with sufficient calcium is the best way of preventing osteoporosis.
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Posted on : 24/11/2005
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