Osteoporosis vs. Osteomalacia

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Illustration of osteomalacia inside the body

Introduction

Functions of the bones

The bones perform multiple functions in the body. For the mechanical functions, the bones protect the vital and delicate organs like the heart, brain, and lungs. The bones also provide the framework and shape for the body. Lastly, the bones are essential for movement.

For the synthetic functions of the bones, the bones help produce the blood cells. The bones contain the bone marrow, the place wherein the hematopoietic stem cells are located. These stem cells produce blood cells.

Aside from these two functions, the bones have metabolic functions, too. The bones serve as important storage for minerals like phosphorus and calcium. The yellow bone marrow of the long bones also acts as fat storage and the bones act as buffers in the blood against excessive pH changes.

Bone diseases

Just like any part of the body, the bones may suffer from diseases, too. Here are two common conditions of the bones.

What Is Osteoporosis?

One of the most common conditions affecting the bones is osteoporosis, a disease wherein there is a decrease in bone density. Aside from that, the bone spaces increase in size.
As a result, the bones become gradually fragile, porous and brittle.

People with the condition may suffer from fractures, making it difficult for them to perform daily activities and move around. According to history, osteoporosis is one of the most ancient illnesses. In 220 B.C., ancient Egyptians already suffered from the disease because ancient mummies have been found to have osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men. About 75 million individuals in Europe, the United States, and Japan have osteoporosis. An estimated 22 million women and 5.5 million men had been diagnosed with osteoporosis in Europe in 2010. In the same year, eight million women and two million men had osteoporosis.

Worldwide, the condition affects about 200 million women. Women are at a higher risk of developing the disease. As a matter of fact, one in 3 women who are 50 years old and above will experience osteoporotic fractures. Therefore, about one in five men over the age of 50 will also have osteoporotic fractures.

The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are hip fractures, wrist fractures, and fractures in the spinal column.

Symptoms

Osteoporosis is also dubbed as the “silent disease” because the loss of bone density happens without any symptoms. However, if the condition is already severe and has already weakened the bones, here are the common symptoms:

  • Weak and brittle fingernails
  • Stooped posture
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle aches
  • Cramps
  • Bone pain

Causes

The bones undergo changes every now and then. New bones are made and old ones are broken down. In young individuals, the body makes new bones faster than it breaks them down. On the other hand, in older adults, bone mass loss happens because the body can’t produce bones faster than they are broken down.

As a result, the bone mass becomes less along with the aging process. This will lead to the condition called osteoporosis. Women are prone to this condition than men because they lose more bone mass faster than men. This happens faster when they reach the menopausal stage.

Treatment

The treatment for osteoporosis depends on the estimate of the risk of acquiring fractures in the next ten years. The main focus of treatment is to prevent the development of the condition or slow down its progression. Other factors include maintaining a healthy bone mass, maximizing one’s lifestyle and preventing fractures.

What Is Osteomalacia?

The bones are vital parts of the body. They play a crucial role in the function of the body since they aid movement, give the framework of the body and produce blood cells. Aside from these, they protect vital organs like the brain, heart and the lungs.

Many diseases can affect the bones like osteomalacia. Osteomalacia is a condition characterized by the softening of the bones, caused by severe deficiency of vitamin D.

The condition keeps the bones from mineralizing or hardening, which they normally do.
As a result, people with this condition are prone to bone bending and breaking. Only adults have osteomalacia because when kids have it, it’s called rickets. During pregnancy, women are at a higher risk of having osteomalacia. Hence, getting the needed vitamin D and calcium is important.

Symptoms

At the early stages of the condition, the patient may not experience any symptoms. When the condition progresses, the patient may experience muscle weakness and bone pain.

The common signs and symptoms also include:

  • Dull aching pain that can radiate to the legs, ribs, and pelvis
  • Bones that are weak, brittle and they tend to fracture easily
  • Hard time walking
  • Muscle weakness
  • Waddling gait
  • Bone pain, particularly in the hips and other weight-bearing joints

Causes

Osteomalacia stems from a problem in bone maturing, a normal process in the body. The body needs vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphate and vitamin D. If the bones do not get these substances, the bones can become weak and soft.

The most common causes of osteomalacia include:

  • Vitamin D deficiency – Vitamin D is produced when the skin gets enough sunlight. People who live in areas where the sunlight hours are short or those who do not eat enough vitamin D food sources are at a higher risk of developing osteomalacia. Vitamin D deficiency is the number one cause of osteomalacia across the globe
  • Celiac disease and other absorption problems
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Liver and kidney disorders

Treatment

The doctor needs to determine the cause of osteomalacia. Once the root cause has been identified and addressed, osteomalacia can be treated. For instance, the condition is caused by vitamin D deficiency, when the patient takes vitamin D supplements or gets under the sun more often, the osteomalacia can be resolved.

If the condition is due to celiac disease, treating the condition can also resolve the osteomalacia problem. The best way is to make sure to prevent the development of osteomalacia in the first place. Always eat healthy foods and make sure to get your vitamin D activated by having a dose of the sunlight. For those who have limited sun exposure, taking vitamin D supplements are recommended.