The vertebral column, also known as the spinal column or simply the spine, is a column of 26 bones in an adult body (24 vertebrae interspaced with cartilage in addition to the sacrum and coccyx). In adolescents, the column consists of 33 bones as the sacrum's five bones and the coccyx's four do not fuse together until after adolescence. The spine is further divided into regions: cervical (the neck), thoracic (upper and mid back), lumbar (lower back), sacral, and coccygeal. In between the vertebrae are thin regions of cartilage known as intervertebral discs, which are made of a fibrous outer shell (annulus fibrosus) and a pulpy center (nucleus pulposus).
Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones," is a bone degenerative disease with an increased risk of fractures. Osteoporosis can cause a significant loss of height due to rounding of thoracic spine, but the diseases can often go unnoticed with signs or symptoms until a fracture develops. Osteoporosis affects nearly 45 million individuals in the United States, contributing approximately two million bone fractures every year. Osteoporosis affects women nearly twice as much as it does men - one in two women and one in four men of the age 50 or older are likely to sustain a bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis. There is no definitive cause of osteoporosis; however it has been linked to several factors such as age, heredity, lifestyle, nutrition, medication, and other medical conditions.
In the early stages, there are typically no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis. However, once the bones have been weakened due to the condition, an individual may have some of the following signs and symptoms:
- Pain in the back caused by a fracture or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time accompanied by a curved upper back
Treatment depends on the likelihood of an individual breaking or fracturing a bone in the next 10 years with the help of the bone density test conducted to diagnose osteoporosis. Exercise and nutrition are key pieces of a treatment plan for osteoporosis, but because bone that has been lost cannot be replaced, the main goal of treatment is to prevent further degeneration of bones.
Bisphosphonates - These are medications that increase bone mass and help prevent spine fractures.
Calcitonin - Another medication that increases bone mass. When used in the form of a nasal spray, it may also provide some pain relief and limit the likelihood of spine fractures.
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) - SERMs are anti-estrogens that increase bone mass and reduce the risk of developing a fracture. These are also linked to lowering the risk of breast cancer.
As mentioned earlier, osteoporosis cannot be fully treated as it is impossible to reverse the loss of bone; however prevention is always preferable to waiting until treatment is deemed necessary. Keeping bones healthy is extremely important by ensuring the body is getting sufficient amounts of calcium, vitamin D, in addition to regular exercise.
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