In Osteoporosis, bones gradually become thinner and weaker until they break easily. Fractures most often occur in the hip, bone, and spine but can occur anywhere if the bone mass lost is severe enough.
Osteoporosis is often referred to as the silent disease because people often don’t know they have the disease until a bone breaks, frequently in a minor fall that wouldn’t normally cause a fracture. Even then some people attribute it to other factors, or look for other symptoms.
Early Detection Difficult
Unfortunately, because your bones are hidden and the thinning of the bones does not cause any symptoms, most people do not know that they are suffering from osteoporosis, until they have the unfortunate experience of breaking a hip or wrist due to a minor fall. Loss of bone in itself usually has no visible effect on the body unless a fracture occurs. When the bones are significantly low in bone mass, even a simple cough or sneeze could cause a fracture of a rib.
Another common occurrence is compression fractures of the spine. These can happen even after a seemingly normal activity, such as bending or twisting to pick up a light object. The fractures can cause severe back pain, but sometimes they go unnoticed for a long period of time.
What is happening is the vertebrae collapse down on themselves, and the person actually loses height. Sometimes a person will have a stooped posture with a bent back.
The hunchback appearance of many elderly women, sometimes called dowager’s hump or widow’s hump, is due to this effect of osteoporosis on the vertebrae. In the latter stages of the disease, pain, disfigurement, and debilitation are common though victims can remain pain free for years while their bones are fracturing.
Late Stage Symptoms
Symptoms may start to appear as the disease progresses. Some symptoms of late stage osteoporosis, besides broken bones are fatigue, bone pain or tenderness, abdominal pain, neck pain, persistent back pain, cramps in the legs at night, brittle fingernails, periodontal disease and tooth loss.
These symptoms are not always favorable to the diagnosis of osteoporosis as they may also indicate other problems of the bones or joints such as tendonitis and arthritis. In fact many people do not seek treatment right away as they attribute their symptoms to arthritis and wait for telltale signs that something is wrong. This can be dangerous since people with osteoporosis may also take longer to heal and are more likely to break a bone again.
It is most unfortunate that by the time symptoms appear, osteoporosis may be quite progressive. There is no cure for osteoporosis. There are several treatment options available but the best medicine is prevention.
Many of the same methods of treatment for osteoporosis are effective for prevention and include a healthy diet, with adequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D. Regular exercise, avoidance of tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption. It is important to know the risk factors for osteoporosis and how they relate to you. It is advisable to speak with a healthcare professional about evaluating possible risks and early detection.