Osteoporosis affects the strength and density of bones. If you have been diagnosed with it, chances are you have a lot of questions about how the disease will impact your body. While the effects vary greatly from one person to another depending upon the severity of the disease and its rate of progression, there are some issues that many osteoporosis sufferers have in common. Here we'll outline the most common effects of this disease on the body to help you gain insight into problems you may find yourself dealing with in the years to come.
About the "Brittle Bone Disease"
Long referred to as brittle bone disease, osteoporosis affects every bone in the body. Bones gradually become thinner, weaker, and more porous as the disease progresses, placing sufferers at increased risk of fractures. It typically develops without symptoms, which means it often isn't detected until bone loss is extensive. In fact, for many patients, the first indication of the disease is an osteoporosis-related fracture.
How Osteoporosis Affects the Body
Bone fractures are the most common consequence of osteoporosis. They can occur anywhere in the body, but are most frequent in the hips, spine, and wrist. Of these sites, the hip is the most serious. Hip fractures are a leading cause of disability in adults over age 50, and fractures in this vital weight-bearing joint nearly always require hospitalization and surgery.
Surgical treatment, depending upon the position and severity of fractures, may consist of surgical repair with metal plates and/or pins or joint replacement surgery, which replaces the damaged hip with a prosthetic joint. Recovery from hip surgery is a long, difficult process, and about 40 percent of patients will not regain enough function to walk independently. Should this happen to you, it is important to know that patients who attend a short-term rehabilitation program during recovery increase their odds of being one of the 60 percent who regain their mobility and independence.
Spinal fractures are also a very serious problem. These are generally compression fractures where weakened vertebrae – the tiny bones in the spinal column – simply collapse due to a minor fall or, in severe osteoporosis, normal activities like reaching, twisting, and even coughing. This can result in chronic pain, deformity in the spine, and height loss of as much as 4 inches; in some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage.
Slowing Bone Loss
While these common complications of osteoporosis can have a severe impact on the body, the good news is that, with proper treatment, many patients can avoid them, and when they do occur, their impact on health, well-being, and quality of life can be minimized. Medical science has learned a lot about this disease over the last few decades, leading to great improvement in the treatment of osteoporosis and its complications.
When the disease is caught in its early stages, as happens more frequently today due to the development of effective screening techniques, medications are available that can slow or even reverse bone loss to some degree. Additionally, research has shown that physical therapy and regular low-impact exercise can help preserve and improve bone health, slowing disease progression, as can bone-healthy dietary changes.
Lastly, great strides in the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments, especially joint replacement surgery, and advancements in rehabilitative medicine offer the means to better manage complications, including hip fractures, osteoporosis-related joint deterioration, and spinal fractures. So while the impact of osteoporosis can be significant, there is plenty of reason for newly diagnosed patients to be optimistic about managing the disease and limiting that impact on their daily lives.