Bone mass is typically at its greatest during a person's mid-twenties; after that point there is a gradual reduction in bone mass as bone is not replenished as quickly as it is resorbed. In postmenopausal women the production of estrogen, a hormone that helps maintain the levels of calcium and other minerals necessary for normal bone regeneration, drops off dramatically, resulting in an accelerated loss of bone mass of up to 3% per year over a period of five to seven years. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of bone-mass loss; a diet high in protein and sodium also speed calcium loss. The disorder also has a genetic component. A vitamin D receptor gene that affects calcium uptake and bone density has been identified, and the different forms of this gene appear to correlate with differences in levels of bone density among osteoporosis patients.
Osteoporosis has no early symptoms and is usually not diagnosed until a fracture occurs, typically in the hip, spine, or wrist. A diagnostic bone density test is thus recommended as a preventive measure for women at high risk. Treatment can slow the process or prevent further bone loss. Estrogen replacement therapy for postmenopausal women is effective but has potential side effects. Calcitonin, a thyroid hormone, is administered in some cases. Nonhormonal drugs for the treatment of osteoporosis include alendronate (Fosamax) and risedronate (Actonel), bisphosphonates that decrease bone resorption, and raloxifene (Evista), a selective estrogen receptor modulator that can increase bone mineral density. Teriparatide (Forteo), which consists of the biologically active region of human parathyroid hormone, stimulates the activity of osteoblasts, the specialized cells that form new bone. Dietary and supplemental calcium and vitamin D are usually recommended for people at risk, but a seven-year study of more than 36,000 women over 50 that was released in 2006 found that supplements conferred little benefit. Exercise, including weight training, has been found to strengthen bones directly and to improve muscle strength and balance and thus minimize the chance of falls.
See M. Hegsted, Advances in Nutrition Research, Vol. 9: Nutrition and Osteoporosis (1994).
Generalized loss of bone density, causing skeletal weakness. Around age 40, the rate of bone resorption in humans starts to exceed the rate of bone formation. Women experience accelerated bone loss after menopause, when the estrogen level decreases. When the amount of bone falls below a certain threshold, fractures occur with little or no trauma. Prevention begins with adequate calcium intake in youth, when bone mass is built, and then throughout life. Weight-bearing exercise and vitamin D are important at all ages. Medications can inhibit bone resorption or prevent bone loss in patients who are at risk for developing osteoporosis.
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Osteoporosis can be prevented with lifestyle changes and sometimes medication; in people with osteoporosis, treatment may involve both. Lifestyle change includes preventing falls and exercise; medication includes calcium, vitamin D, bisphosphonates and several others. Fall-prevention advice includes exercise to tone deambulatory muscles, proprioception-improvement exercises; equilibrium therapies may be included. Exercise with its anabolic effect, may at the same time stop or reverse osteoporosis.
Fractures of the long bones acutely impair mobility and may require surgery. Hip fracture, in particular, usually requires prompt surgery, as there are serious risks associated with a hip fracture, such as deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism, and increased mortality.
The diagnosis of osteoporosis is made on measuring the bone mineral density (BMD). The most popular method is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA). In addition to the detection of abnormal BMD, the diagnosis of osteoporosis requires investigations into potentially modifiable underlying causes; this may be done with blood tests and X-rays. Depending on the likelihood of an underlying problem, investigations for cancer with metastasis to the bone, multiple myeloma, Cushing's disease and other above mentioned causes may be performed.
When there has also been an osteoporotic fracture (also termed "low trauma-fracture" or "fragility fracture"), defined as one that occurs as a result of a fall from a standing height, the term "severe or established" osteoporosis is used.
The International Society for Clinical Densitometry takes the position that a diagnosis of osteoporosis in men under 50 years of age should not be made on the basis of densitometric criteria alone. It also states that for pre-menopausal women, Z-scores (comparison with age group rather than peak bone mass) rather than T-scores should be used, and that the diagnosis of osteoporosis in such women also should not be made on the basis of densitometric criteria alone.
Regarding the screening of men, a cost-analysis study suggests that screening may be "cost-effective for men with a self-reported prior fracture beginning at age 65 years and for men 80 years and older with no prior fracture". Also cost-effective is the screening of adult men from middle age on to detect any significant decrease in testosterone levels, say, below 300.
The three main mechanisms by which osteoporosis develops are an inadequate peak bone mass (the skeleton develops insufficient mass and strength during growth), excessive bone resorption and inadequate formation of new bone during remodeling. An interplay of these three mechanisms underlies the development of fragile bone tissue. Hormonal factors strongly determine the rate of bone resorption; lack of estrogen (e.g. as a result of menopause) increases bone resorption as well as decreasing the deposition of new bone that normally takes place in weight-bearing bones. The amount of estrogen needed to suppress this process is lower than that normally needed to stimulate the uterus and breast gland. The α-form of the estrogen receptor appears to be the most important in regulating bone turnover. In addition to estrogen, calcium metabolism plays a significant role in bone turnover, and deficiency of calcium and vitamin D leads to impaired bone deposition; in addition, the parathyroid glands react to low calcium levels by secreting parathyroid hormone (parathormone, PTH), which increases bone resorption to ensure sufficient calcium in the blood. The role of calcitonin, a hormone generated by the thyroid that increases bone deposition, is less clear and probably not as significant as that of PTH.
The activation of osteoclasts is regulated by various molecular signals, of which RANKL (receptor activator for nuclear factor κB ligand) is one of best studied. This molecule is produced by osteoblasts and other cells (e.g. lymphocytes), and stimulates RANK (receptor activator of nuclear factor κB). Osteoprotegerin (OPG) binds RANKL before it has an opportunity to bind to RANK, and hence suppresses its ability to increase bone resorption. RANKL, RANK and OPG are closely related to tumor necrosis factor and its receptors. The role of the wnt signalling pathway is recognized but less well understood. Local production of eicosanoids and interleukins is thought to participate in the regulation of bone turnover, and excess or reduced production of these mediators may underlie the development of osteoporosis.
Trabecular bone is the sponge-like bone in the ends of long bones and vertebrae. Cortical bone is the hard outer shell of bones and the middle of long bones. Because osteoblasts and osteoclasts inhabit the surface of bones, trabecular bone is more active, more subject to bone turnover, to remodeling. Not only is bone density decreased, but the microarchitecture of bone is disrupted. The weaker spicules of trabecular bone break ("microcracks"), and are replaced by weaker bone. Common osteoporotic fracture sites, the wrist, the hip and the spine, have a relatively high trabecular bone to cortical bone ratio. These areas rely on trabecular bone for strength, and therefore the intense remodeling causes these areas to degenerate most when the remodeling is imbalanced.
A 2007 manufacturer-supported study suggested that in patients who had suffered a low-impact hip fracture, annual infusion of 5 mg zoledronic acid reduced risk of any fracture by 35% (from 13.9 to 8.6%), vertebral fracture risk from 3.8% to 1.7% and non-vertebral fracture risk from 10.7% to 7.6%. This study also found a mortality benefit: after 1.9 years, 9.6% of the study group (as opposed to 13.3% of the control group) had died of any cause, indicating a mortality benefit of 28%.
Oral bisphosphonates are relatively poorly absorbed, and must therefore be taken on an empty stomach, with no food or drink to follow for the next 30 minutes. They are associated with esophagitis and are therefore sometimes poorly tolerated; weekly or monthly administration (depending on the preparation) decreases likelihood of esophagitis, and is now standard. Although intermittent dosing with the intravenous formulations such as zolendronate avoids oral tolerance problems, these agents are implicated at higher rates in a rare but unpleasant mouth disease called osteonecrosis of the jaw. For this reason, oral bisphosphonate therapy is probably to be preferred, and prescribing advice now recommends any remedial dental work to be carried out prior to commencing treatment.Teriparatide Recently, teriparatide (Forteo, recombinant parathyroid hormone residues 1–34) has been shown to be effective in osteoporosis. It acts like parathyroid hormone and stimulates osteoblasts, thus increasing their activity. It is used mostly for patients with established osteoporosis (who have already fractured), have particularly low BMD or several risk factors for fracture or cannot tolerate the oral bisphosphonates. It is given as a daily injection with the use of a pen-type injection device. Teriparatide is only licensed for treatment if bisphosphonates have failed or are contraindicated (however, this differs by country and is not required by the FDA in the USA. However, patients with previous radiation therapy, or Paget's disease, or young patients should avoid this medication). Strontium ranelate Oral strontium ranelate is an alternative oral treatment, belonging to a class of drugs called "dual action bone agents" (DABAs) by its manufacturer. It has proven efficacy, especially in the prevention of vertebral fracture. In laboratory experiments, strontium ranelate was noted to stimulate the proliferation of osteoblasts, as well as inhibiting the proliferation of osteoclasts.
Strontium ranelate is taken as a 2 g oral suspension daily, and is licenced for the treatment of osteoporosis to prevent vertebral and hip fracture. Strontium ranelate has side effect benefits over the bisphosphonates, as it does not cause any form of upper GI side effect, which is the most common cause for medication withdrawal in osteoporosis. In studies a small increase in the risk of venous thromboembolism was noted, the cause for which has not been determined. This suggests it may be less suitable in patients at risk for thrombosis for different reasons. The uptake of (heavier) strontium in place of calcium into bone matrix results in a substantial and disproportionate increase in bone mineral density as measured on DXA scanning, making further followup of bone density by this method harder to interpret for strontium treated patients. A correction algorithm has been devised.
Although strontium ranelate is effective, it's not approved for use in the United States yet. However, strontium citrate is available in the U.S. from several well-known vitamin manufacturers. Most researchers believe that strontium is safe and effective no matter what form it's used. The ranelate form is simply a device invented by the Servier company of France so that they could patent their version of strontium.
Strontium, no matter what the form, must be water-soluble and ionized in the stomach acid. Stontium is then protein-bound for transport from the intestinal tract into the blood stream. Unlike drugs like sodium alendronate (Fosamax), strontium doesn't inhibit bone recycling and, in fact, may produce stronger bones. Studies have shown that after five years alendronate may even cause bone loss, while strontium continues to build bone during lifetime use.
Strontium must not be taken with food or calcium-containing preparations as calcium competes with strontium during uptake. However, it's essential that calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D in theraputic amounts must be taken daily, but not at the same time as strontium. Strontium should be taken on an empty stomach at night.Hormone replacement Estrogen replacement therapy remains a good treatment for prevention of osteoporosis but, at this time, is not recommended unless there are other indications for its use as well. There is uncertainty and controversy about whether estrogen should be recommended in women in the first decade after the menopause.
In hypogonadal men testosterone has been shown to give improvement in bone quantity and quality, but, as of 2008, there are no studies of the effects on fractures or in men with a normal testosterone level.Selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) SERMs are a class of medications that act on the estrogen receptors throughout the body in a selective manner. Normally, bone mineral density (BMD) is tightly regulated by a balanace between osteoblast and osteoclast activity in the trabecular bone. Estrogen has a major role in regulation of the bone formation-resorption equilibrium, as it stimulates osteoblast activity. Some SERMs such as raloxifene (Evista), act on the bone by slowing bone resorption by the osteoclasts. SERMs have been proved as effective in clinical trials.
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials involving calcium and calcium plus vitamin D supported the use of high levels of calcium (1,200 mg or more) and vitamin D (800 IU or more), though outcomes varied depending on which measure was used to assess bone health (rates of fracture versus rates of bone loss). The meta-analysis, along with another study, also supported much better outcomes for patients with high compliance to the treatment protocol. In contrast, despite earlier reports in improved high density lipoprotein (HDL, "good cholesterol") in calcium supplementation, a possible increase in the rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) was found in a study in New Zealand in which 1471 women participated. If confirmed, this would indicate that calcium supplementation in women otherwise at low risk of fracture may cause more harm than good.Vitamin D Some studies have shown that a high intake of vitamin D reduces fractures in the elderly, though the Women's Health Initiative found that though calcium plus vitamin D did increase bone density, it did not affect hip fracture but did increase formation of kidney stones.
Additional benefits for osteoporotic patients other than BMD increase include improvements in balance, gait, and a reduction in risk of falls.
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Hip fractures can lead to decreased mobility and an additional risk of numerous complications (such as deep venous thrombosis and/or pulmonary embolism, pneumonia). The 6-month mortality rate following hip fracture is approximately 13.5%, and a substantial proportion (almost 13%) of people who have suffered a hip fracture need total assistance to mobilize after a hip fracture.
Vertebral fractures, while having a smaller impact on mortality, can lead to severe chronic pain of neurogenic origin, which can be hard to control, as well as deformity. Though rare, multiple vertebral fractures can lead to such severe hunch back (kyphosis) that the resulting pressure on internal organs can impair one's ability to breathe.
Apart from risk of death and other complications, osteoporotic fractures are associated with a reduced health-related quality of life.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men over the age of 50 worldwide have osteoporosis. It is responsible for millions of fractures annually, mostly involving the lumbar vertebrae, hip, and wrist. Fragility fractures of ribs are also common in men.
Hip fractures are responsible for the most serious consequences of osteoporosis. In the United States, more than 250,000 hip fractures annually are attributible to Osteoporosis. It is estimated that a 50-year-old white woman has a 17.5% lifetime risk of fracture of the proximal femur. The incidence of hip fractures increases each decade from the sixth through the ninth for both women and men for all populations. The highest incidence is found among those men and women ages 80 or older.
Between 35-50% of all women over 50 had at least one vertebral fracture. In the United States, 700,000 vertebral fractures occur annually, but only about a third are recognized. In a series of 9704 of women aged 68.8 on average studied for 15 years, 324 had already suffered a vertebral fracture at entry into the study; 18.2% developed a vertebral fracture, but that risk rose to 41.4% in women who had a previous vertebral fracture.
High dietary protein intake increases calcium excretion in urine and has been linked to increased risk of fractures in research studies. Other investigations have shown that protein is required for calcium absorption, but that excessive protein consumption inhibits this process. No interventional trials have been performed on dietary protein in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
Estrogen replacement therapy remains a good treatment for prevention of osteoporosis but, at this time, is not recommended unless there are other indications for its use as well. There is uncertainty and controversy about whether estrogen should be recommended in women in the first decade after the menopause.
In hypogonadal men testosterone has been shown to give improvement in bone quantity and quality, but, as of 2008, there are no studies of the effects on fractures or in men with a normal testosterone level.