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What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common bone disease that affects both men and women, usually as they grow older. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis and avoid the often debilitating bone fractures that can result from this disease. If you already have osteoporosis, new medications are available to slow or even stop its progression.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease of the bones that makes them weaken and prone to fracture. Bone is living tissue that is in a constant state of regeneration, as old bone is removed (bone resorption) and replaced by new bone (bone formation). By their mid‐30s, most people begin to gradually lose bone strength as the balance between bone resorption and bone formation shifts, so that more bone is lost than can be replaced.

As a result, bones become thinner and structurally weaker. The disease is silent because there are no symptoms when you have osteoporosis, and the condition may come to your attention only after you break a bone. When you have osteoporosis, this can occur even after a minor injury, such as a fall.

The most common fractures occur at the spine, wrist and hip. Spine and hip fractures in particular may lead to chronic pain, long‐term disability and even death. The goal of treating osteoporosis is to prevent such fractures in the first place.

What causes Osteoporosis?

Many factors will increase your risk of developing osteoporosis and suffering a fracture. Some of these risk factors can be changed, while others cannot. Recognizing your own risk factors is important so you can take steps to prevent this condition from developing or treat it before it becomes worse.

Major risk factors include:

  • Older age (starting in the mid‐30s but accelerating with advancing age)
  • Non‐Hispanic white and Asian ethnic background
  • Small bone structure
  • Family history of osteoporosis or osteoporosis‐related fracture in a parent or sibling
  • Previous fracture following a low‐level trauma, especially after age 50
  • Sex hormone deficiency, particularly estrogen deficiency, both in women (e.g. menopause) and men
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Cigarette smoking

Fast Facts

  • Age is not the only risk factor for osteoporosis. Lifestyle choices, certain diseases and even medications can cause this condition.
  • A simple diagnostic test known as a bone density test can provide valuable information about you bone strength.
  • New medications exist to slow and even stop the progression of osteoporosis.
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