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Osteoporosis

What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a decrease in the density of bone, decreasing its strength and resulting in fragile bones. Osteoporosis literally leads to abnormally porous bone that is compressible, like a sponge. This disorder of the skeleton weakens the bone and results in frequent fractures (breaks) in the bones. Osteopenia is a condition of bone that is slightly less dense than normal bone but not to the degree of bone in osteoporosis. 

Normal bone is composed of protein, collagen, and calcium, all of which give bone its strength. Bones that are affected by osteoporosis can break (fracture) with relatively minor injury that normally would not cause a bone to fracture. The fracture can be either in the form of cracking (as in a hip fracture) or collapsing (as in a compression fracture of the vertebrae of the spine). The spine, hips, ribs, and wrists are common areas of bone fractures from osteoporosis although osteoporosis-related fractures can occur in almost any skeletal bone.
What are osteoporosis symptoms and signs? Osteoporosis can be present without any symptoms for decades because osteoporosis doesn't cause symptoms until bone fractures. Moreover, some osteoporotic fractures may escape detection for years when they do not cause symptoms. Therefore, patients may not be aware of their osteoporosis until they suffer a painful fracture. The symptom associated with osteoporotic fractures usually is pain; the location of the paindepends on the location of the fracture. The symptoms of osteoporosis in men are similar to the symptoms of osteoporosis in women. Fractures of the spine (vertebra) can cause severe "band-like"pain that radiates from the back to the sides of the body.
Over the years, repeated spinal fractures can lead to chronic lower back pain as well as loss of height and/or curving of the spine due to collapse of the vertebrae. The collapse gives individuals a hunched-back appearance of the upper back, often called a "dowager hump" because it commonly is seen in elderly women. A fracture that occurs during the course of normal activity is called a minimal trauma, or stress fracture. For example, some patients with osteoporosis develop stress fractures of the feet while walking or stepping off a curb. Hip fractures typically occur as a result of a fall. With osteoporosis, hip fractures can occur as a result of trivial accidents. Hip fractures also may heal slowly or poorly after surgical repair because of poor healing of the bone.
What factors determine bone strength? Bone mass (bone density) is determined by the amount of bone present in the skeletal structure. Generally, the higher the bone density, the stronger the bones. Bone density is greatly influenced by genetic factors, which in turn are sometimes modified by environmental factors and medications. For example, men have a higher bone density than women, and African Americans have a higher bone density than Caucasian or Asian Americans. Normally, bone density accumulates during childhood and reaches a peak by around age 25. Bone density then is maintained for about 10 years. After age 35, both men and women will normally lose 0.3%-0.5% of their bone density per year as part of the aging process. Estrogen is important in maintaining bone density in women. When estrogen levels drop after menopause, loss of bone density accelerates. During the first five to 10 years after menopause, women can suffer up to 2%-4% loss of bone density per year! This can result in the loss of up to 25%-30% of their bone density during that time period. The accelerated bone loss after menopause is a major cause of osteoporosis in women, referred to as postmenopausal osteoporosis.
What are osteoporosis risk factors and causes? The following are factors that will increase the risk of developing osteoporosis:
  • Female gender

  • Caucasian or Asian race

  • Thin and small body frame

  • Family history of osteoporosis (for example, having a mother with an osteoporotic hip fracture doubles your risk of hip fracture)

  • Personal history of fracture as an adult

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Lack of exercise

  • Diet low in calcium

  • Poor nutrition and poor general health

  • Malabsorption (nutrients are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as celiac sprue.

  • Low estrogen levels in women (such as occur in menopause or with early surgical removal of both ovaries).

  • Low testosterone levels in men (hypogonadism)

  • Chemotherapy that can cause early menopause due to its toxic effects on the ovaries

  • Amenorrhea (loss of the menstrual period) in young women associated with low estrogen and osteoporosis; amenorrhea can occur in women who undergo extremely vigorous exercise training and in women with very low body fat, for example, women with anorexia nervosa

  • Chronic inflammation, due to chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or liver diseases

  • Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any condition that interferes with walking

  • Hyperthyroidism, a condition wherein too much thyroid hormone is produced by the thyroid gland (as in Grave's disease) or is ingested as thyroid hormone medication

  • Hyperparathyroidism is a disease wherein there is excessive parathyroid hormone production by the parathyroid gland, a small gland located near or within the thyroid gland. Normally, parathyroid hormone maintains blood calcium levels by, in part, removing calcium from the bone. In untreated hyperparathyroidism, excessive parathyroid hormone causes too much calcium to be removed from the bone, which can lead to osteoporosis.

  • When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb adequate amounts of calcium from the diet to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency can result from lack of intestinal absorption of the vitamin such as occurs in celiac sprue and primary biliary cirrhosis.

  • Certain medications can cause osteoporosis. These include long-term use ofheparin (a blood thinner), antiseizure medications such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and long-term use of oral corticosteroids (such asprednisone).

How is osteoporosis diagnosed? A routine X-ray can reveal osteoporosis of the bone because the bones appear much thinner and lighter than normal bones. Unfortunately, by the time X-rays can detect osteoporosis, at least 30% of the bone has already been lost. In addition, X-rays are not accurate indicators of bone density. Thus, the appearance of the bone on X-ray often is affected by variations in the degree of exposure of the X-ray film. The National Osteoporosis Foundation, the American Medical Association, and other major medical organizations recommend a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (DXA, formerly known as DEXA) for diagnosing osteoporosis. DXA measures bone density in the hip and the spine. The test takes only five to 15 minutes to perform, exposes patients to very little radiation (less than one-tenth to one-hundredth of the amount used on a standard chest X-ray), and is quite precise. The bone density of the patient is compared to the average peak bone density of young adults of the same sex and race. This score is called the "T score," and it expresses the bone density in terms of the number of standard deviations (SD) below peak young adult bone mass.
  • Osteoporosis is defined as a bone density T score of -2.5 or below.
  • Osteopenia (between normal and osteoporosis) is defined as bone density T score between -1 and -2.5.
It is important to note that while Osteopenia is considered a lesser degree of bone loss than osteoporosis, it nevertheless can be of concern when it is associated with other risk factors (such as smoking, cortisone steroid usage, rheumatoid arthritis, family history of osteoporosis, etc.) that can increase the chances for developing vertebral, hip, and other fractures. In this setting, Osteopenia may require medication as part of the treatment program.
What is the treatment for osteoporosis, and can osteoporosis be prevented? The goal of treatment of osteoporosis is the prevention of bone fractures by reducing bone loss or, preferably, by increasing bone density and strength. Although early detection and timely treatment of osteoporosis can substantially decrease the risk of future fractures, none of the available treatments for osteoporosis are complete cures. In other words, it is difficult to completely rebuild bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis. Therefore, prevention of osteoporosis is as important as treatment. The following are osteoporosis treatment and prevention measures:
1. Lifestyle changes, including quitting cigarette smoking, curtailing excessive alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and consuming a balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D 
2. Medications that stop bone loss and increase bone strength, such asalendronate, risedronate, raloxifene, ibandronate, calcitonin, zoledronate and denosumab.

3.  Medications that increase bone formation such as teriparatide (Forteo)

Lifestyle changes: Exercise, quitting cigarettes, and curtailing alcohol: Exercise has a wide variety of beneficial health effects. However, exercise does not bring about substantial increases in bone density. The benefit of exercise for osteoporosis has mostly to do with decreasing the risk of falls, probably because balance is improved and/or muscle strength is increased. Research has not yet determined what type of exercise is best for osteoporosis or for how long it should be continued. Until research has answered these questions, most doctors recommend weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, preferably daily.
A word of caution about exercise: It is important to avoid exercises that can injure already weakened bones. In patients over 40 and those with heart disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure, exercise should be prescribed and monitored by physicians. Extreme levels of exercise (such as marathon running) may not be healthy for the bones. Marathon running in young women that leads to weight loss and loss of menstrual periods can actually promote osteoporosis. Smoking one pack of cigarettes per day throughout adult life can itself lead to loss of 5%-10% of bone mass. Smoking cigarettes decreases estrogen levels and can lead to bone loss in women before menopause. Smoking cigarettes also can lead to earlier menopause. In postmenopausal women, smoking is linked with increased risk of osteoporosis. Data on the effect of regular consumption of alcohol and caffeine on osteoporosis is not as clear as with exercise and cigarettes. In fact, research regarding alcohol and caffeine as risk factors for osteoporosis shows widely varying results and is controversial. Certainly, their effects are not as great as other factors. Nevertheless, moderation of both alcohol and caffeine is prudent.
Medications that prevent bone loss and breakdown: Currently, the most effective medications for osteoporosis that are approved by the FDA are antiresorptive agents, which decrease the removal of calcium from bones. The bone is a living dynamic structure; it is constantly being built and removed (resorbed). This process is an essential part of maintaining the normal calcium level in the blood and serves to repair tiny cracks in the bones that occur with normal daily activity and to remodel bone based on the physical stresses placed on the bone. Osteoporosis results when the rate of bone resorption exceeds the rate of bone rebuilding. Antiresorptive medications inhibit removal of bone (resorption), thus tipping the balance in favor of bone rebuilding and increasing bone density. HRT is one example of an antiresorptive agent. Others include alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate(Actonel),raloxifene (Evista), ibandronate (Boniva), calcitonin (Calcimar), zoledronate (Reclast), and denosumab (Prolia).
Bisphosphates: Bisphosphonates decrease the risk of hip fracture, wrist fracture, and spine fracture in people with osteoporosis. Alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel), ibandronate (Boniva), and zoledronate (Reclast) are bisphosphonates. To reduce side effects and to enhance absorption of the medicine, all bisphosphonates taken by mouth (orally) should be taken in the morning, on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before breakfast, and with at least 8 ounces (240 ml) of water (not juice). This improves the absorption of the biphosphonate. Taking the pill sitting or standing (as well as drinking adequate amounts of liquids) minimizes the chances of the pill being lodged in the esophagus, where it can cause ulceration and scarring. Patients should also remain upright for at least 30 minutes after taking the pill to avoid reflux of the pill into the esophagus. Newer intravenous bisphosphonates, such as ibandronate (Boniva) and zoledronate (Reclast), bypass the potential esophagus and stomach problems. Food, calcium, iron supplements, vitamins with minerals, or antacids containing calcium, magnesium, or aluminum can reduce the absorption of oral bisphosphonates, thereby resulting in loss of effectiveness. Therefore, oral bisphosphonates should be taken with plain water only in the morning before breakfast. Also, no food or drink should be taken for at least 30 minutes afterward.
Alendronate (Fosamax): Alendronate (Fosamax) is a biphosphonate antiresorptive medication. Alendronate is approved for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis as well as for osteoporosis that is caused by cortisone-related medications (glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis). Alendronate has been shown to increase bone density and reduce fractures in the spine, hips, and arms. Fosamax is taken by mouth once a week to prevent and treat postmenopausal osteoporosis. Alendronate is the first osteoporosis medication also approved for increasing bone density in men with osteoporosis, either in a daily or a weekly dosing schedule. Fosamax generally is well tolerated with few side effects. One side effect of alendronate is irritation of the esophagus (the food pipe connecting the mouth to the stomach). Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) and ulcers of the esophagus have been reported infrequently with alendronate use.
Risedronate (Actonel): Risedronate (Actonel) is another bisphosphonate antiresorptive medication. Like alendronate, this drug is approved for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis as well as for osteoporosis that is caused by cortisone-related medications (glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis). Risedronate is chemically different from alendronate and has less likelihood of causing esophageal irritation. Risedronate also is  more potent in preventing the resorption of bone than alendronate.
Ibandronate (Boniva): Ibandronate (Boniva) is a bisphosphonate for prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. It is available in formulations for both daily and monthly oral use as well as for intravenous use every three months.
Zoledronate (Reclast): Zoledronate (Reclast) is a unique intravenous bisphosphonate antiresorptive medication that is given once every year. This formulation seems to have very good ability to strengthen bones and prevent fractures of both spinal and non-spinal bones. The convenience of once-a-year dosing is obvious. As with all bisphosphonates, patients taking Reclast must be taking adequate calcium and vitamin D prior to and after infusion of the medication for optimal results. Generally, patients are given acetaminophen (Tylenol) the day of the infusion and for several days afterward to prevent occasional minor muscle and joint aches. The infusion lasts approximately 20-30 minutes. Reclast is used to treat and prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women and increases bone mass in men with osteoporosis. Reclast is also used to treat and prevent steroid-induced osteoporosis (glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis). Reclast reduces risk of fractures after a low-trauma hip fracture. Reclast should not be used during or prior to pregnancy.
 
 
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