OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass that occurs when the rate of bone resorption exceeds the rate of bone formation, a common occurrence as the body ages. Notice how this is different from Paget’s disease. In Paget’s disease, new bone is formed in an attempt to keep up with the resorption by the overactive osteoclasts, but that new bone is produced haphazardly. In fact, when a physician is evaluating a patient with thinning bone, he or she will test for osteoporosis and Paget’s disease (as well as other diseases). Osteoporosis does not have the elevated blood levels of alkaline phosphatase found in Paget’s disease.
While osteoporosis can involve any bone, it most commonly affects the proximal ends of the femur, vertebrae, and wrist. As a result of the loss of bone density, the osseous tissue may not provide adequate support for everyday functions, and something as simple as a sneeze can cause a vertebral fracture. When an elderly person falls and breaks a hip (really, the femur), it is very likely the femur that broke first, which resulted in the fall. Histologically, osteoporosis is characterized by a reduction in the thickness of compact bone and the number and size of trabeculae in cancellous bone.
Women lose bone mass more quickly than men starting at about 50 years of age. This occurs because 50 is the approximate age at which women go through menopause. Not only do their menstrual periods lessen and eventually cease, but their ovaries reduce in size and then cease the production of estrogen, a hormone that promotes osteoblastic activity and production of bone matrix. Thus, osteoporosis is more common in women than in men, but men can develop it, too. Anyone with a family history of osteoporosis has a greater risk of developing the disease, so the best treatment is prevention, which should start with a childhood diet that includes adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D and a lifestyle that includes weight-bearing exercise. These actions, as discussed above, are important in building bone mass. Promoting proper nutrition and weight-bearing exercise early in life can maximize bone mass before the age of 30, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
For many elderly people, a hip fracture can be life threatening. The fracture itself may not be serious, but the immobility that comes during the healing process can lead to the formation of blood clots that can lodge in the capillaries of the lungs, resulting in respiratory failure; pneumonia due to the lack of poor air exchange that accompanies immobility; pressure sores (bed sores) that allow pathogens to enter the body and cause infections; and urinary tract infections from catheterization.
Current treatments for managing osteoporosis include bisphosphonates (the same medications often used in Paget’s disease), calcitonin, and estrogen (for women only). Minimizing the risk of falls, for example, by removing tripping hazards, is also an important step in managing the potential outcomes from the disease.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology