Osteoporosis vs. Osteoarthritis: How to Tell the Difference and Manage Your Symptoms

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Osteoporosis vs. Osteoarthritis is a common illness in the bones of older adults. Most people often confuse the two to be the same, but that is not the case.

Osteoporosis is a type of illness wherein there is a gradual loss of bone mass, making the patient more vulnerable to bone fractures and injuries. The loss of bone mass over time will weaken the bones and make them brittle. Unfortunately, this disease can’t be noticed until it’s too late.

On the other hand, osteoarthritis is a more complex illness particularly affecting the joints. It causes swelling, pain, and stiffness as the joints become inflamed. Over time, the symptoms get worse until it affects the patient’s mobility and flexibility.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that gradually weakens the bones, particularly in the hip bones and backbones. Unlike osteoarthritis, this illness doesn’t involve pain throughout the loss of bone mass. That’s the reason why this is considered a “silent disease”, you’ll only notice it when you start to get easily fractured and injured in the bones.

When we are in our 20s our body replaces old bones with new, strong ones, however, as we age, more bones are broken down than it is created. That’s when Osteoporosis begins.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Early signs of osteoporosis are not evident. In most cases, people only realize they have the disease when they start to get vulnerable from fractures and broken bones. Fortunately, there are still small signs you can look out for.

  1. Gums are receding
  2. Low handgrip strength
  3. Brittle and weak fingernails

These may be vague signs, but another way to catch osteoporosis early is by talking to your doctor and attending regular bone check-ups.

Causes of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is usually caused by hormonal changes in the body as a person ages. Other risk factors include:

  • Aging
  • Menopause
  • Removal of ovaries
  • Low testosterone levels in men
  • Low estrogen levels in women
  • Hormonal medications
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Excessive drinking
  • Lack of exercise and physical activity

Chronic diseases like diabetes, kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and vitamin D deficiency are also linked to the increased risk of osteoporosis.

Diagnosing Osteoporosis

Before treatment is given, your doctor will diagnose you with osteoporosis using a DXA machine, which will determine your bone mass density. Some doctors also use ultrasound, particularly on the patient’s heel to confirm the loss of bone density.

Treatment for Osteoporosis

Some treatments for osteoporosis include:

  • Calcitonin
  • Estrogen
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Teriparatide
  • Abaloparatide
  • Raloxifene
  • Romosozumab

Your doctor may prescribe any of the medications listed. Make sure to report any other medical conditions you have such as high blood pressure, a history of stroke, and a heart attack.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Unlike osteoporosis, this illness is more complex and causes swelling and pain starting from its onset. It particularly attacks the cartilage found within the joints, and as the disease progresses, it begins to get inflamed causing pain, swelling, and over time, deformity.

Osteoarthritis is more common than osteoporosis affecting nearly 32 million people in the US alone.

Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis

The followings are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis you should look out for:

  • Swelling and pain in the joints
  • Stiffness of joints
  • Less flexibility
  • Deformity within joints (long-term effects)
Causes Of Osteoarthritis

The primary cause of osteoarthritis is damage to the joint cartilage. The reason why this happens is still unclear but the following risk factors can increase your risk of having one.

  1. Aging - One of the common risk factors of osteoarthritis is age. Normally, when people reach their 60s, bones become weaker and more vulnerable to diseases like osteoarthritis.
  2. Obesity - The more overweight you are, the more pressure your bones will have in bearing your weight. This then will increase your risk of getting osteoarthritis.
  3. Gender - Just like osteoporosis, this disease is more common in women than in men. The reason for this is still unknown.
  4. Family history - Another common explanation as to why you get osteoarthritis is genetics. If a member of your family has a history of osteoarthritis, there’s a higher probability that you will eventually get the disease as well.
  5. Overuse of joints - If you have injured your joint before, it may trigger osteoarthritis. This goes the same if your joints are constantly exposed to stress and too much pressure. That’s why it’s important to not overuse joints especially if it’s injured.
  6. Race and ethnicity - Recent studies have shown that white people are more prone to osteoarthritis compared to people of Asian descent.
Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

The most common ways for a doctor to diagnose osteoarthritis is through physical examination, assessment of symptoms, and bone x-rays. People with osteoarthritis have joint cartilage loss, narrow space between adjacent bones, and the presence of bone spurs around the affected area. In some cases, rheumatologists assist in the diagnosing process.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there’s still no cure for osteoarthritis, but your doctor will most probably plan combinations of therapies to improve your condition. Some treatment therapies include:

  • Maintaining physical activity
  • Muscle strengthening exercises
  • Weight loss plans
  • Assistive devices (e.g., cane/crutches)
  • Pain relievers to ease the effects of swelling
  • Surgery
Prevention Tips to Reduce the Risk

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are both diseases attacking the bones. Though getting these diseases may be inevitable, especially for older adults, there are still practices you can make a habit of to reduce your risk of getting the disease.

  • Get regular exercise - One of the best ways to prevent any bone diseases from attacking is to regulate exercise at least 30-40 mins a day, 2-3 times a week. This will help your body develop bone mass. The best exercises to include are weight-bearing exercises like jogging, walking, dancing, or climbing up and down the stairs.
  • Protein and calcium-rich diet - If your target is to have healthy and strong bones, then it’s important to include an adequate amount of protein and calcium in your diet. Of course, a healthy diet also includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  • Get enough vitamin D - Vitamin D plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium in our bodies. Without this vitamin, your body will have a hard time absorbing the available calcium in your bones. Sunlight in the early morning is one of the best sources of vitamin D along with supplements, fruits, and lots of veggies.
  • Quit unhealthy habits - Bad habits like drinking alcohol and smoking should be avoided to ensure you not only have healthy bones but also a healthy body in general.
  • Maintain normal weight - Being overweight can have a toll on your bone structure as it struggles to bear your weight. On the other hand, being too thin can increase your risk of getting bone injuries. That’s why maintaining a healthy, ideal weight is essential to achieving healthy bones. You can find out your ideal weight through the BMI calculator.
  • Be conscious about your posture - Maintaining good posture at all times can have a positive impact on your bone health. It may be helpful not to stay in the same position for hours. Instead, try to change position from time to time. This will avoid putting pressure on one side of your body alone. Additionally, when in a sitting position, it’s important to maintain an ideal chair level and try to move around from time to time to balance pressure and blood flow.

Final Thoughts

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are diseases that affect the bones and are common in older people. These can cause discomfort, vulnerability, and pain which may affect one’s quality of living.

Though some consider these diseases inevitable, there are still ways to decrease one’s risk of getting the disease. Just a habit of exercise, a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle can make a difference in how you will live when you reach your older adulthood.

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