8 Surprising Facts About Osteoporosis

  • Group of older people
    Bone Up on Bone Health
    It's a common illness with potentially deadly consequences, yet it remains underdiagnosed and undertreated, experts say. It’s osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and makes them more likely to break. About 54 million Americans—many over 50—are at risk for fractures due to bone disease. The good news: Tests and treatments are relatively simple and often effective. Take note of these important facts about osteoporosis and talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your risk.

  • Older woman with broken bone
    1. Half of all women will break bones due to osteoporosis.
    Women have a higher chance of having an osteoporosis-related fracture than they do of having a heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. Half of women can expect to break a bone at some point in their lives due to this illness, twice the rate of men. Of the 10 million Americans living with osteoporosis today, 80% are women.

  • Older men
    2. Men make up 20% of osteoporosis patients.
    Osteoporosis is often thought of as a woman's disease, so men may not consider their own risk. But about 2 million American men currently live with osteoporosis. Men over 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis (27%) than they are to get prostate cancer (11.3%). About 25% of men will experience osteoporosis-related bone fractures at some point in their lives, yet they are half as likely as women to be tested or treated for osteoporosis.

  • Older man
    3. Men are more likely than women to die from an osteoporosis fracture.
    This is particularly true for hip fractures. Worldwide, one-third of all hip fractures occur in men; up to 37% die in the first year after the fracture—twice the mortality rate experienced by women. Researchers aren’t sure why men have a higher mortality rate, though studies suggest men are more likely to have additional medical problems at the time of the fracture and are more vulnerable to complications following surgery.

  • Bone density test
    4. Most older people who break bones aren't tested for osteoporosis.
    Even though breaking a bone is a common first sign of osteoporosis, 80% of older Americans with fractures aren't tested for the disease. Lack of awareness about the disease by both physicians and patients is one factor. Another: Medicare has cut reimbursement for osteoporosis scans to below their cost, so fewer medical facilities are offering them, resulting in millions of fewer scans being provided and fewer diagnoses being given.

  • Older woman sneezing
    5. If you have osteoporosis, a sneeze can break your bones.
    If your bones have been severely weakened by osteoporosis, it doesn't take much to cause a break. Even a minor fall from a standing position—tripping on carpet or while getting up from a chair, for example—can break a bone. You can fracture something simply by bumping into your table. A routine sneeze can do it for some patients with advanced osteoporosis.

  • Kid drinking milk
    6. You can help children now reduce their risk of osteoporosis as adults.
    Your body adds most of the bone you will have for your entire life during childhood. By age 20, most of us already have up to 90% of our bones; by about 30, we are at peak bone mass. (After this, we start losing a little bit each year.) Research shows if kids increase peak bone mass by 10%, they'll cut their risk of osteoporosis fractures in adulthood by 50%. Parents can get children off on the right foot with nutritious meals and a physically active family lifestyle.

  • Senior woman losing height
    7. Losing height is a potential sign of osteoporosis.
    Were you shorter at your last check-up? If you lose more than a half-inch in a year or if you've lost more than one-and-a-half inches altogether, consider being checked for osteoporosis. Other signs include having a stooped posture and back pain that might be due to fractured or collapsed vertebrae, as well as having a bone break more easily than expected.

  • Older woman looking in mirror
    8. Your wrinkle cream could be hurting your bones.
    Research shows too much vitamin A can put you at higher risk for bone loss and fracture. Vitamin A is present in retinol, which is often prescribed to treat skin conditions ranging from acne to age spots and wrinkles. If you also take supplements with vitamin A, you could wind up having too much in your system, which could prevent vitamin D from reaching your bones. Talk to you doctor to make sure you’re balancing your intake of vitamin A between medications, supplements and fortified foods.

8 Surprising Facts About Osteoporosis

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. Facts and Statistics. International Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics
  2. Osteoporosis Fast Facts. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Osteoporosis-Fast-Facts.pdf
  3. Call to action to address the crisis in treatment of osteoporosis. American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. https://www.asbmr.org/Assets/d5139738-e1b3-4645-859a-96affc059ae3/636098972158530000/call-to-action-...
  4. Osteoporosis: Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20207860
  5. Vitamin A and Bone Health. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Nutrition/vitamin_a.asp
  6. New Research Shows 93 Percent of U.S. Adults Unaware of Men's Risk for Osteoporosis. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/news/new-research-shows-93-percent-of-u-s-adults-unaware-of-mens-risk-for-osteoporosis/
  7. Bone development in young people. International Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.iofbonehealth.org/bone-development-young-people-0
  8. Haentjens P, et al. Meta-analysis: Excess mortality after hip fracture among older women and men. Ann Internal Med. 2010 Mar 16; 152(6): 380–390.
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Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 30
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