What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density deteriorates and decreases over time, causing weak and brittle bones and increasing the risk of fracture. Wrist, spine and hip bones are most affected, although any bones are susceptible to the disease.
Osteoporosis is very common. In fact, it is the most widespread bone disease, especially among elderly men and women. In general, women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis. About one out of five American women older than age 50 is affected by osteoporosis, according to the National Institutes of Health (Source: NIH).
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Your bones are made up primarily of calcium and protein. Bone is a living tissue that continuously sheds and reabsorbs old cells and grows new ones. Osteoporosis develops when new bone fails to form, or when excessive amounts of bone are reabsorbed by the body. Osteoporosis often occurs due to a reduction of the hormone estrogen in a woman’s body after menopause or a loss of testosterone in aging men, but it can also be caused by a number of other factors, such as taking certain medications.
In most cases, osteoporosis develops gradually over years, and a person with osteoporosis may not be aware that he or she has the disease until a fracture occurs. At this stage, the disease has already lead to serious thinning and weakening of the bones. There is no cure for osteoporosis, but treatments are available, and you can also make lifestyle changes that can slow or stop bone loss, and even prevent future fractures.
If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, such as family history or being postmenopausal, your health care provider may recommend that you get a bone density test. This test is a special type of X-ray that can help determine if you have osteoporosis, if you have a high risk of developing the disease, or if you are at risk for a bone fracture due to thinning and weakening of the bones.
There are generally no symptoms of osteoporosis until the disease has advanced to a serious stage and a fracture occurs. Seek regular medical care to most effectively diagnosis and treat osteoporosis in its earliest, most treatable stage and to reduce the risk of fractures and other complications.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have hip pain or are unable to walk normally after a fall or other injury. These may be symptoms of a hip fracture, which is a medical emergency and a common complication of osteoporosis.
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- Calcium and Bone Health. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/calcium.html
- Osteoporosis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000360.htm
- Learn About Osteoporosis > Bone Health Basics. National Osteoporosis Foundation. http://nof.org/learn/basics
- Osteoporosis Prevention. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00315
- Raisz LG. Clinical practice. Screening for osteoporosis. N Engl J Med 2005; 353:164