- Aging & Longevity
Osteoporosis Symptoms and Treatment
A multistorey building is held up by the steel girders inside it. The human body is held erect by bones. If the steel in a skyscraper rusts and weakens, the building will collapse. Bones do not rust, but their basic constituent, calcium, may drop to a dangerously low level. When this occurs, the bones soften and they may bend or collapse. This condition is known to doctors as osteoporosis. In Latin, 'osteo' means bone, and 'porosis' means porous, or full of holes.
Despite the fact that women live on average four years longer than men, they seem to suffer a higher proportion of the diseases known to affect humans. Osteoporosis is another in this category, and up to one quarter of women over the age of 50 will suffer from this disease.
Calcium is found in your diet in all dairy food (particularly cheese), sardines, shellfish, beans, nuts and tripe. Adults require up to 800 mg of calcium, and children and pregnant women up to 1400 mg a day, but as 200 mg of calcium is found in a 25 grams piece of cheese, it is fairly easy to obtain adequate amounts in your diet. Nevertheless, many older people do not consume adequate amounts of calcium, and as the structure of our bones is being constantly renewed, this lack of calcium over many years leads to a gradual deterioration in bone strength.
Once women reach the menopause, the drop in hormone levels exacerbates the problem, and the loss of calcium from the bones accelerates. This is why women are more susceptible to the disease than men, who go through a more gradual drop in hormone levels as they age. All of us have seen the sweet little old lady shuffling along the street with a hump back. Almost certainly she is suffering from osteoporosis, and she may have been 20 cm taller or more in her youth. Her present posture and height are due to the gradual collapse of her weakened bones.
Most sufferers do not know they have the disease until they fracture a bone (particularly the hip) with minimal injury, or if on a routine X-ray their bones are seen to be more transparent than normal. A procedure similar to an X-ray, called dual photon densitometry, is now available to diagnose osteoporosis at an early stage. There are no blood tests available to diagnose the condition.
The main problem with this disease is the ease with which fractures may occur. Other complications include deformity of the back, severe arthritis, and neuralgia caused by the collapsing bones pinching nerves.
Treatment involves adding calcium to the diet by permanently altering your eating habits, and by taking calcium supplements in a tablet form. Some of these tablets dissolve in water to make them easier to swallow. Regular exercise is also important, as the minor stresses on the bones from exercise keep them stronger. Hormone replacement therapy is also necessary for women sufferers and will actually prevent the disease if commenced at the time of menopause. This involves taking the necessary female hormones as one or two tablets a day for several years. With a calcium-rich diet, the bones will stop deteriorating and may slowly regain their strength. Other factors that can aid the treatment are reducing your intake of coffee and alcohol, and stopping smoking.
Osteoporosis may be hereditary and more common in petite, small boned women. If your mother was a victim, it may be wise to watch your diet and exercise level from an early age.
The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.
The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.
Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.