It's Your Health
Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density among aging adults that can cause painful fractures, disability and deformity. While heredity and bone size affect the development of osteoporosis, it is often possible to prevent, delay or reduce bone loss through healthy living.
Osteoporosis affects both sexes but is more frequent among women. It is estimated that about one out of four women and one out of eight men over the age of 50 in Canada have osteoporosis.
Bones are constantly being renewed naturally. But with age, this process becomes less efficient, and bone mineral density is lost. When bone mineral density is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis, it is called osteopenia. Osteoporosis causes bones to become very thin and weak over time and increases the risk of fracture. It is often called "the silent thief" because bone loss occurs without symptoms.
When bones are seriously weakened by osteoporosis, even simple movements such as bending over to pick up a bag of groceries or sneezing heavily can lead to fractures.
Wrist, spine and hip fractures are most commonly associated with osteoporosis. Bone fractures occurring in these areas resulting from a fall from standing height or less are called fragility fractures, and are evidence of osteoporosis.
Hip fractures due to osteoporosis are a serious problem for seniors. Mortality is significantly increased after hip fracture, and fewer than 50 % suffering from this injury experience functional recovery, and many are permanently disabled. About 25 % of patients reside in long-term care facilities for a year or more after a hip fracture.
There usually are no warning signs for osteoporosis until a fracture occurs. However, there are ways to help prevent, delay and treat osteoporosis.
Women are especially at risk of osteoporosis. At menopause, estrogen levels, which help keep women's bones healthy, drop dramatically. Many women experience more bone loss during menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy can help reduce the drop in estrogen levels during menopause, preventing and even correcting bone loss. However, there may be adverse health effects, including an increased risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about what might be suitable for you.
Although men usually have a greater bone mass than women, they can also suffer from osteoporosis.
In addition to age, there are several factors that will increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. They include:
If you have some of the risk factors listed above, talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test and take preventive action to reduce the risk. Here are some of the things you can do to protect your bones.
If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, talk to your doctor about medication that may help with your condition.
Some people with osteoporosis suffer pain from a fracture or chronic pain due to compression or muscle spasms. Your doctor can help you find the right pain relief for your symptoms and possibly recommend other therapies which may help including ice and heat, relaxation therapy, acupuncture and other alternative ways of dealing with pain.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are committed to helping Canadians improve their the health and well-being by promoting and supporting regular physical activity and healthy eating.
In particular, the Public Health Agency disseminates information on healthy aging and encourages seniors' health promotion, risk reduction and stabilization of chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis.
The Agency also works with stakeholders at all levels to provide leadership in chronic disease prevention and control. It does this through its policy and program development, surveillance and educational development.
For more information on osteoporosis, contact the following:
Public Health Agency of Canada Osteoporosis Info Sheet for Seniors.
To order a copy of The Safe Living Guide or call (613) 952-7606
Osteoporosis Canada at 1-800-463-6842 or (416) 696-2663 in Toronto
The Arthritis Society at 1-800-321-1433
Public Health Agency of Canada's Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web site
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735.
Original: March 2007
Updated: October 2007
©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2007