Learning About Bone Diseases

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by: Dr. Craig A. Maxwell

Prior to 1974, only a small percentage of people had ever heard of osteoporosis. Though serious, this bone disease was rare and associated only with women ages 70 and over with a “dowagers hump”. Now, in the 21st century, osteoporosis is estimated to affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men over the age of 50 worldwide. How did a disease that was rare a generation ago become one of the top health concerns affecting senior citizens today? One word: Bisphosphonates.

You may have heard that osteoporosis and other bone diseases are just one of the many normal health problems an aging population has to face. Not so. Osteoporosis should never have become an epidemic. On this page, you’ll learn the alarming truth about osteoporosis and other bone diseases so you can protect yourself.

The Bone Cycle

Though bones may seem permanent, unchanging fixtures in your body, they are actually always being replaced. At any given moment there are from 1-10 million sites where small segments of old bone are being broken-down (reabsorbed) while new bone is laid down to replace it. When more old bone is destroyed than new bone laid down, bone loss occurs.

Common Types of Bone Disease

There are five common types of bone diseases that cause bone loss and brittle bones.

Let’s look at them in closer detail:

  • Osteomalacia

iStock_000020425969XSmallOsteomalacia is a bone disease you may not have heard of before. It is a softening of the bones due to lack of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D deficiency is usually caused by lack of sunlight and the inability of the digestive system to absorb vitamin D from food. This could be due to digestive disorders, poor diet, or a combination of both. Symptoms of osteomalacia include muscle weakness, bone pain, spasms of the hands and feet, numbness around the mouth, and easy bone fractures.

  • Osteopenia 

Osteopenia is considered a pre-cursor to osteoporosis. Osteopenia usually shows no outward symptoms so it can be very difficult to detect. In people with this bone disease, there is no bone loss and bone mass index is only slightly below normal. Eating disorders, chemotherapy, radiation exposure, steroids, and low vitamin D levels can contribute to the development of osteopenia. Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow was diagnosed with this brittle bone disease in 2010 due to what her physician believed to be vitamin D deficiency and an extreme exercise regimen.

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