Bone loss, also known as osteoporosis, is a disease that develops over time in many people. Over your lifetime, natural aging, certain dietary or lifestyle choices, and even certain medications can cause bones to become weak and brittle.
This doesn’t mean your bones are getting smaller; instead, they become more airy or less dense and more prone to breakage or fracture.
This article will go over some symptoms you can expect if you have bone loss, the possible causes, and how to treat it.
Symptoms of Bone Loss
Bone loss usually develops slowly over time with few noticeable symptoms. Often referred to as a silent disease, osteoporosis is usually not diagnosed until you break or fracture a bone.
If you develop symptoms of osteoporosis, before or after an initial diagnosis, they may include:
- Severe back pain
- Height loss
- Changes in your posture (kyphosis)
- Easily broken or fractured bones
Causes of Bone Loss
To some extent, bone loss occurs naturally with age, as new bone growth slows. Your gender and race can also play a role. White Americans, Asian Americans, and women have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Family history is also important, so it’s good to know if anyone in your family has a history of easily broken bones or broken bones.
Hormonal changes are another aspect of aging that can lead to bone loss. Although some of these changes occur during puberty or pregnancy, the decline in estrogen and testosterone levels that occurs later in life is more likely to contribute to osteoporosis.
Apart from these factors, over which you have little or no control, there are other possible causes of bone loss, including:
- Low calcium and vitamin D intake
- Low-protein diets
- Chronic diseases like gastrointestinal diseases and rheumatoid arthritis
- Intense and long-term alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle
- Certain medications
What drugs can cause bone loss?
There are several types of medications that can contribute to bone loss. The most common are:
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of these medications, as well as any potential side effects you may experience. Do not stop taking prescription medications without first talking to your health care provider.
How to Treat Bone Loss
There are several ways to combat bone loss, and the first is usually to make diet and lifestyle changes that can promote strong bones. This may include increasing your intake of certain foods rich in calcium and vitamin D and incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Your healthcare provider can also provide education on nutrition, exercise, and fall prevention strategies.
If medication is needed, some options include:
- Bisphosphonates can help preserve bone density and slow bone loss.
- Calcitonina thyroid hormone, is used in postmenopausal women who cannot tolerate other medications.
- Estrogen agonists/antagonists– either Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) or Tissue Selective Estrogen Complexes (TSECs) – are used to treat and prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
- Estrogen and hormone replacement therapy can be used to counter the damage caused by hormonal changes.
- Parathyroid hormone (PTH) Parathyroid hormone related protein (PTHrP) analog and analog are used to help increase bone mass in postmenopausal women.
- RANK ligand (RANKL) inhibitors may help slow bone loss in both men and women.
- Sclerostin inhibitors may help slow bone loss and increase the production of new bone.
Although these options each offer some benefit, there is little evidence for the safety and effectiveness of their long-term use. The researchers suggested that more research into existing drugs and the development of new treatments are essential to improve the prevention and management of bone loss.
Treat bone loss
Bisphosphonates are usually the first choice when it comes to drugs that treat osteoporosis. A number of individual medications fall into this category, including Fosamax (alendronate) and Actonel (risedronate).
According to the National Institutes of Health:
- Alendronate can reduce the risk of hip, spine and wrist fractures by 50%.
- Risedronate can reduce the risk of fractures by 40% over three years.
Complications and risk factors associated with bone loss
Early recognition and management of bone loss can help improve long-term outcomes and reduce the risk of complications.
The most common complications of bone loss are related to the fragility of your bones. Hip and spinal fractures are considered the most serious complications of osteoporosis, as they can contribute to significant disability and even increased mortality.
Other fractures, such as non-fall spine fractures and compression fractures, can also lead to complications such as pain, postural changes, and disability.
Are there tests to diagnose the cause of bone loss?
Most tests that assess bone loss aim to measure the extent of bone loss using a T-score. Your T-score is a measure of your bone density compared to the average bone density found in young adults.
In some cases of bone loss, however, your healthcare provider may perform other tests to determine what underlying issues might be contributing to your osteoporosis. Osteoporosis caused by factors like malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies or certain chronic diseases may require additional medications like nutritional supplements. Here are examples of tests that may help reduce factors contributing to bone loss:
When to See a Health Care Provider
Seeing a primary care provider regularly can help identify issues like bone loss before you experience serious injury or complications. If you know you have a high-risk disease or have a family history of osteoporosis, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to slow bone loss.
If you don’t have an increased risk of bone loss, but you notice that you have frequent broken bones or broken bones from minor falls or even regular movements like coughing, ask your healthcare provider to measure your bone density. Early treatment for bone loss can help reduce your risk of serious complications or disability.
Bone loss normally occurs with age, but there are a number of dietary and lifestyle choices, and even medications, that can speed up the process. Talk to your healthcare professional about the risks of bone loss and the preventive measures you can take.
A word from Verywell
Many systems and structures in our body weaken over time as we age. In many cases, such as with osteoporosis, you may not notice these changes until you experience significant injury or disability.
Staying active by exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet can go a long way in preventing bone loss, but your healthcare provider can tailor a preventative strategy to your individual health needs and medical history.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I completely prevent bone loss?
Although you can avoid a number of risk factors for bone loss such as nutritional deficiencies, smoking, and alcohol consumption, you cannot completely avoid the effects of aging. Some degree of bone loss occurs naturally, and there are some contributing factors, like gender and race, that you cannot change.
Can my bone loss be cured?
There are treatments that can help slow bone loss or even help increase bone growth, but you really can’t undo the damage of osteoporosis once it’s done. If you have osteoporosis, your health care provider can discuss topics like physiotherapy and fall prevention with you to help prevent complications.
Can bone loss be fatal?
Bone loss itself isn’t necessarily fatal, but it can lead to injuries like hip fractures that decrease your overall quality of life and increase mortality. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to maintain your health and safety if you suffer from bone loss.
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