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.
While many factors can contribute to osteoporosis, bone health can be optimized through exercise, maintaining calcium and vitamin D intake, 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 of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis usually does not cause any symptoms until a fracture occurs, and even then, people may be unaware they sustained damage to a bone because they did not have an injury—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
- Sudden back pain
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 can occur without injury and as a result may go undetected or be attributed to a back strain. When multiple vertebrae are involved, people may lose height or develop an abnormal curvature to their spine.
The typical appearance of an individual with compression fractures is a short stature with a stooped posture.
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 persistent or severe 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.
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.
Osteoporosis-related fractures can occur as the result of falls around the house.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of these injuries. Some include:
- Asking your healthcare provider about medications you are taking and whether or not they may lead to dizziness or 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 to minimize the risk of falls
When to See a Healthcare Provider
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 in the less severe stages of bone loss (known as osteopenia) is key to reducing your risk for developing fractures.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are early signs that you may have osteoporosis?
Is fracturing a bone easily a sign of osteoporosis?
Possibly. About 60% of fractures are related to osteoporosis or the bone loss that precedes it. If you’re over 65 and are post-menopausal, the likelihood of fractures due to osteoporosis increases. Your healthcare provider will rule out other possible causes, though, such as tumors, infection, or bone cancer.