5 Signs of Osteoporosis

One in two women and up to one in four men will break a bone in their lifetime as the result of osteoporosis, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

“Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because you can’t feel your bones getting weaker until it’s too late,” says rheumatologist Marie Kuchynski, MD.

“That’s why people at risk for the disease, particularly woman older than age 45, should be attentive about taking preventative measures and getting tested for early signs of osteoporosis," she says.

The disease now affects approximately 10 million Americans.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density and quality are reduced. As bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture is greatly increased.

"Hip fractures due to brittle bones can be serious and even deadly,” Dr. Kuchynski says.

 The most common osteoporosis warning signs, Dr. Kuchynski says, include:

  1. Fragility-related fractures. These occur when even mild impact causes a fracture of the wrist, back, hip or other bones.
  2. Height loss. More than two inches in height can be lost over time.
  3. Receding gums. Teeth are connected to the jawbone, and if the jaw is losing bone, gums can recede.
  4. A curved, stooped shape to the spine. When osteoporosis weakens the vertebrae, they gradually become wedge-shaped, creating a pronounced curve in the upper back. This is sometimes called a widow’s hump.
  5. Lower back pain. Osteoporosis doesn't cause back pain, but it weakens the spine so it can no longer handle normal stress.

Who Should Worry About Getting Osteoporosis?

Premenopausal women whose estrogen levels have begun to drop sharply are at an increased risk for osteoporosis, as are petite Caucasian and Asian women, Dr. Kuchynski says.

“Other contributing factors for the disease are a family history of osteoporosis, eating disorders, advanced age, long-term use of steroids and excessive smoking and alcohol use,” she says.

Fortunately, she says, osteoporosis is preventable and treatable if it's caught in time. You can also make lifestyle changes to prevent or reduce your risk, such as:

  • Getting more calcium. Take the correct amount of daily calcium as recommended by your doctor. It's best to get your calcium from food, but if you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your doctor can recommend a calcium supplement.
  • Ensuring you get enough vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. Your doctor will test your blood to measure your vitamin D level to see if you need a supplement.
  • Exercising. It's never too late to start exercising. Take 15 or 30 minutes out of your day to do weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises like walking, jogging, yoga, jumping rope, water aerobics, climbing stairs and using free weights and elastic bands. “Exercises like swimming and cycling are great for muscle strength but are not weight-bearing, so they're not the most helpful for building bone strength,” Dr. Kuchynski says.
  • Eating well. Make sure your diet includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, salmon, sardines with bones, egg yolks, almonds, lean proteins, beans, avocados and olive oil

“It is never too early to be aware of the need to maintain strong bones,” Dr. Kuchynski says. “That’s why it’s important to begin an active lifestyle at a young age. The proper lifestyle behaviors over time can go a long way in protecting bone health and avoiding debilitating fractures later on.”

Marie Kuchynski, MD, is a rheumatologist at University Hospitals Brunswick Rheumatology and Internal Medicine. You can request an appointment with Dr. Kuchynski or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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