Symptoms of Osteoporosis

While there are some, often there are none

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Osteoporosis is a chronic disease by which there is a gradual deterioration of the tissue that comprises your bones. It is often called a "silent disease" because there are few to no symptoms of osteoporosis. Over time, the pace of new bone formation cannot keep up with bone loss. In turn, the reduction in bone mass weakens the skeleton, making bones weak, fragile, and more porous—and more prone to fracture.

Unlike many other bone diseases, osteoporosis can be prevented or at least slowed down through exercise, eating nutritiously, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. Being on the lookout for signs and symptoms of osteoporosis, should they occur, can help you get a jump on treatment.

Frequent Symptoms

Osteoporosis usually does not cause any symptoms until a fracture occurs, and even then, some people are unaware they broke a bone—especially if it occurs within the spine.

Low-energy fractures point to a possible diagnosis of osteoporosis. Additional signs and symptoms that indicate you should be tested for osteoporosis include:

  • Height loss or stooped posture
  • Pain or aching in the bones/joints
  • Sudden back pain

Low-Energy Fractures

Most everyone has had a broken bone, but usually, there is a major force that causes the injury. Fractures after a fall from a height, car crashes, or sports injuries make sense. But when you break a bone with minimal force, osteoporosis should be considered.

Height Loss or Stooping

Compression fractures of the spine may go undetected or be attributed to a back strain type of injury. When multiple vertebrae are injured, people may lose height or develop a curvature to their spine.

The typical appearance of an individual with compression fractures is a short stature with a humped back.

Unexplained Bone or Joint Pain

There are many causes of bone and joint pain, but osteoporosis may contribute to these symptoms. When the bones lack sufficient strength to hold the weight of your body, injury can occur. Unexplained bone or joint pain may raise the consideration of a bone health problem.

Sudden Back Pain

Back pain that comes on suddenly, with no apparent cause, can sometimes be a sign of a compression fracture of the spine.

It's easy to chalk up back pain to a pulled muscle, but if you have risk factors of osteoporosis and you're experiencing back pain for which you can't pinpoint a cause, it's a good idea to have it checked out.

No Symptoms at All

Remember that many people with osteoporosis have no indication they have the disease until a fracture occurs.

Because of that, it's important to know your risk factors for developing osteoporosis. While some are not within your control (e.g., being female, family history of the disease), others (e.g., smoking, sedentary lifestyle, low calcium intake) are modifiable. If any apply to you, it's worth being extra-diligent about getting any suspect symptoms checked out.

In the end, the more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you will develop osteoporosis.

Rare Symptoms

There are a few other signs that you may be experiencing loss of bone density, though these are less common.

Loss of Grip Strength

There's increasing evidence that a loss of grip strength is a good predictor of osteoporosis. This could be attributed to other issues, like osteoarthritis for example, but should be brought to your doctor's attention nonetheless.

Loss of Fitness

This may be a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation, but an overall loss of fitness is tied to osteoporosis. This is just another important reason to exercise regularly, especially as you age.

Periodontal Disease

Some research suggests an association between periodontal disease (receding gums, tooth loss, etc.) and osteoporosis. However, other studies have found that the association isn't significant.

Certain osteoporosis treatments can adversely affect oral health, so it's important to discuss this potential side effect with your doctor.

Complications

The most obvious complication of osteoporosis is bone fracture. These can be very serious, especially when in the spine or hip, and can have serious health implications.

A fragility fracture results from mechanical forces that otherwise would not normally cause a fracture. For example, a fall from a standing height or less should not result in a fracture, but it may in a person with osteoporosis.

Most osteoporosis-related fractures occur as the result of falls around the house.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent these injuries. Some include:

  • Asking your doctor about medications you are taking and whether or not they may lead to falls
  • Considering a home safety assessment where interventions can be implemented (e.g., installing stair handrails, placing a non-slip bath mat, and improving lighting, to name a few)
  • Performing 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises most days of the week
  • Performing muscle-strengthening exercises two to three days a week
  • Having your vision evaluated regularly

When to See a Doctor

The diagnosis of osteoporosis can be made one of two ways: either by the presence of a fragility fracture—especially at the spine, hip, wrist, humerus (upper arm), rib and pelvis—or through bone mineral density testing. If you notice any symptoms of osteoporosis, or if you have many risk factors, the best thing you can do is to get screened.

Screening for osteoporosis and catching it early or while your bones are osteopenic is key to reducing your risk for developing fractures.

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Article Sources

  1. Pisani P, Renna MD, Conversano F, et al. Major osteoporotic fragility fractures: Risk factor updates and societal impact. World J Orthop. 2016;7(3):171-81. doi:10.5312/wjo.v7.i3.171


  2. Li YZ, Zhuang HF, Cai SQ, et. al. Low Grip Strength is a Strong Risk Factor of Osteoporosis in Postmenopausal Women. Orthopaedic Surgery. 2018;10(1):17-22. doi:10.1111/os.12360


  3. Esfahanian V, Shamami MS, Shamami MS. Relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease: review of the literature. J Dent (Tehran). 2012;9(4):256-64.


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