Osteoporosis is a disease where decreased bone strength increases the risk of a broken bone. It is the most common reason for a broken bone among the elderly. Bones that commonly break include the back bones, the bones of the forearm, and the hip. Until a broken bone occurs there are typically no symptoms. Bones may weaken to such a degree that a break may occur with minor stress or spontaneously. Chronic pain and a decreased ability to carry out normal activities may occur following a broken bone.
Osteoporosis may be due to lower than normal peak bone mass and greater than normal bone loss. Bone loss increases after menopause due to lower levels of estrogen. Osteoporosis may also occur due to a number of diseases or treatments including alcoholism, anorexia, hyperthyroidism, surgical removal of the ovaries, and kidney disease. Certain medications increase the rate of bone loss including some antiseizure medications, chemotherapy, proton pump inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and steroids. Not enough exercise and smoking are also risk factors. Osteoporosis is defined as a bone density of 2.5 standard deviations below that of a young adult. This is typically measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at the hip.
Osteoporosis itself has no symptoms; its main consequence is the increased risk of bone fractures. Osteoporotic fractures occur in situations where healthy people would not normally break a bone; they are therefore regarded as fragility fractures. Typical fragility fractures occur in the vertebral column, rib, hip and wrist.
Fractures are the most dangerous aspect of osteoporosis. Debilitating acute and chronic pain in the elderly is often attributed to fractures from osteoporosis and can lead to further disability and early mortality. These fractures may also be asymptomatic. The most common osteoporotic fractures are of the wrist, spine, shoulder and hip. The symptoms of a vertebral collapse (“compression fracture”) are sudden back pain, often with radicular pain (shooting pain due to nerve root compression) and rarely with spinal cord compression or cauda equina syndrome. Multiple vertebral fractures lead to a stooped posture, loss of height, and chronic pain with resultant reduction in mobility.
Fractures of the long bones acutely impair mobility and may require surgery. Hip fracture, in particular, usually requires prompt surgery, as serious risks are associated with it, such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, and increased mortality.
Fracture risk calculators assess the risk of fracture based upon several criteria, including BMD, age, smoking, alcohol usage, weight, and gender.
The increased risk of falling associated with aging leads to fractures of the wrist, spine, and hip. The risk of falling, in turn, is increased by impaired eyesight due to any cause (e.g. glaucoma, macular degeneration), balance disorder, movement disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease), dementia, and sarcopenia (age-related loss of skeletal muscle). Collapse (transient loss of postural tone with or without loss of consciousness) leads to a significant risk of falls; causes of syncope are manifold, but may include cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), vasovagal syncope, orthostatic hypotension (abnormal drop in blood pressure on standing up), and seizures. Removal of obstacles and loose carpets in the living environment may substantially reduce falls. Those with previous falls, as well as those with gait or balance disorders, are most at risk.
Many diseases and disorders have been associated with osteoporosis. For some, the underlying mechanism influencing the bone metabolism is straightforward, whereas for others the causes are multiple or unknown.
- In general, immobilization causes bone loss (following the ‘use it or lose it’ rule). For example, localized osteoporosis can occur after prolonged immobilization of a fractured limb in a cast. This is also more common in active people with a high bone turn-over (for example, athletes). Other examples include bone loss during space flight or in people who are bedridden or use wheelchairs for various reasons.
- Hypogonadal states can cause secondary osteoporosis. These include Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, anorexia nervosa, andropause,hypothalamic amenorrhea or hyperprolactinemia. In females, the effect of hypogonadism is mediated by estrogen deficiency. It can appear as early menopause (<45 years) or from prolonged premenopausal amenorrhea (>1 year). Bilateral oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries) and premature ovarian failure cause deficient estrogen production. In males, testosterone deficiency is the cause (for example, andropause or after surgical removal of the testes).
- Endocrine disorders that can induce bone loss include Cushing’s syndrome, hyperparathyroidism,hyperthyroidism,hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus type 1 and 2,acromegaly, and adrenal insufficiency. In pregnancy and lactation can cause reversible bone loss.
- Malnutrition, parenteral nutrition and malabsorption can lead to osteoporosis. Nutritional and gastrointestinal disorders that can predispose to osteoporosis include undiagnosed and untreated coeliac disease (both symptomatic and asymptomatic people), Crohn’s disease ulcerative colitis,cystic fibrosis,[surgery(after gastrectomy, intestinal bypass surgery or bowel resection) and severe liver disease (especially primary biliary cirrhosis). People with lactose intolerance or milk allergy may develop osteoporosis due to restrictions of calcium-containing foods. Individuals with bulimia can also develop osteoporosis. Those with an otherwise adequate calcium intake can develop osteoporosis due to the inability to absorb calcium and/or vitamin D. Other micronutrients such as vitamin K or vitamin B12 deficiency may also contribute.
- People with rheumatologic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus and polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis are at increased risk of osteoporosis, either as part of their disease or because of other risk factors (notably corticosteroid therapy). Systemic diseases such as amyloidosis and sarcoidosis can also lead to osteoporosis.
- Renal insufficiency can lead to renal osteodystrophy.
- Hematologic disorders linked to osteoporosis are multiple myeloma and other monoclonal gammopathies, lymphoma and leukemia, mastocytosis,hemophilia, sickle-cell disease and thalassemia.
- People with scoliosis of unknown cause also have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Bone loss can be a feature of complex regional pain syndrome. It is also more frequent in people with Parkinson’s disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- People with Parkinson’s disease have a higher risk of broken bones. This is related to poor balance and poor bone density. In Parkinson’s disease there may be a link between the loss of dopaminergic neurons and altered calcium metabolism (and iron metabolism) causing a stiffening of the skeleton and kyphosis.
Certain medications have been associated with an increase in osteoporosis risk; only steroids and anticonvulsants are classically associated, but evidence is emerging with regard to other drugs.
- Steroid-induced osteoporosis (SIOP) arises due to use of glucocorticoids – analogous to Cushing’s syndrome and involving mainly the axial skeleton. The synthetic glucocorticoid prescription drug prednisone is a main candidate after prolonged intake. Some professional guidelines recommend prophylaxis in patients who take the equivalent of more than 30 mg hydrocortisone (7.5 mg of prednisolone), especially when this is in excess of three months. Alternate day use may not prevent this complication.
- Barbiturates, phenytoin and some other enzyme-inducing antiepileptics – these probably accelerate the metabolism of vitamin D
- L-Thyroxine over-replacement may contribute to osteoporosis, in a similar fashion as thyrotoxicosis does.This can be relevant in subclinical hypothyroidism.
- Several drugs induce hypogonadism, for example aromatase inhibitors used in breast cancer, methotrexate and other antimetabolite drugs, depot progesterone and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists.
- Anticoagulants – long-term use of heparin is associated with a decrease in bone density, and warfarin (and related coumarins) have been linked with an increased risk in osteoporotic fracture in long-term use
- Proton pump inhibitors – these drugs inhibit the production of stomach acid; this is thought to interfere with calcium absorption. Chronic phosphate binding may also occur with aluminium-containing antacids.
- Thiazolidinediones (used for diabetes) – rosiglitazone and possibly pioglitazone, inhibitors of PPARγ, have been linked with an increased risk of osteoporosis and fracture.
- Chronic lithium therapy has been associated with osteoporosis.
- The diagnosis of osteoporosis can be made using conventional radiography and by measuring the bone mineral density (BMD). The most popular method of measuring BMD is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. 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. 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.
- Conventional radiography
- Conventional radiography is useful, both by itself and in conjunction with CT or MRI, for detecting complications of osteopenia (reduced bone mass; pre-osteoporosis), such as fractures; for differential diagnosis of osteopenia; or for follow-up examinations in specific clinical settings, such as soft tissue calcifications, secondary hyperparathyroidism, or osteomalacia in renal osteodystrophy. However, radiography is relatively insensitive to detection of early disease and requires a substantial amount of bone loss (about 30%) to be apparent on X-ray images.
The main radiographic features of generalized osteoporosis are cortical thinning and increased radiolucency. Frequent complications of osteoporosis are vertebral fractures for which spinal radiography can help considerably in diagnosis and follow-up. Vertebral height measurements can objectively be made using plain-film X-rays by using several methods such as height loss together with area reduction, particularly when looking at vertical deformity in T4-L4, or by determining a spinal fracture index that takes into account the number of vertebrae involved. Involvement of multiple vertebral bodies leads to kyphosis of the thoracic spine, leading to what is known as dowager’s hump.