The Dangers of Osteoporosis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

Osteoporosis is a bone disease. However, the problems it can cause affect far more than your bones. They affect your health overall. It's something everyone should be aware of, especially people age 50 and older. 

Middle aged Caucasian woman with arm pain at doctor
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One reason osteoporosis is so dangerous is that it's a silent disease. It has no symptoms. You won’t know your bones are weak. Most people don't find out they have it until they've broken a bone. This can lead to long-term disability. A hip fracture, for instance, can take a long time to heal. People sometimes can no longer live on their own.

A Little Bit About Broken Bones

This a startling statistic: About half of all women older than 50 and a fourth of men that age will break a bone that's weak because of osteoporosis. Often this happens because of a fall. But sometimes bones become so weak that it takes very little for them to break. A bone could break while you're doing a normal movement of daily life like carrying groceries.

All fractures from osteoporosis can be dangerous. But broken bones in some parts of the body can cause more trouble than others. Bones that break most often are the wrists, hips and spine. Fractures of the spine and hip are often the most dangerous.

The Aftermath of a Bone Break

Spine and hip fractures can be more dangerous because of what follows the fracture. They often cause chronic pain and disability. They are more likely than other broken bones to lead to long-term problems.

For instance, weak bones and breaks in the spine can cause it to collapse. The spine will get shorter and curve forward. This can be painful. It can make it hard to move around. You also lose height. However, hip fractures seem to be the most dangerous.

Most elderly people who have a hip fracture require hip replacement surgery. Following surgery, they need walking aids for months afterward. Nearly half need a cane or a walker for the rest of their lives. A broken hip also affects a person's ability to live alone. Many cannot do so. Most people who have broken a hip need someone to help them move around. 

What You Can Do

The dangers of osteoporosis are very real. But the risks do not have to become reality for everyone. You can take steps to minimize the dangers of osteoporosis. One of the most important things you can do is to have a plan for preventing falls. Include these ideas in your plan:

  • keep your home free of clutter
  • remove area rugs
  • install good lighting
  • use grab bars in the bathroom

It's also important to work closely with your doctor to keep your bones as healthy as possible. This includes eating foods that are good for your bones. It might include taking supplements. Getting exercise is also important. And, for some people, medication to strengthen bones can help. 

The to-do list for everyone age 50 and older should include making a plan for keeping your bones healthy. The rest of your body and soul will benefit.

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  1. Osteoporosis fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/osteoporosis.html
  2. Osteoporosis. American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Osteoporosis
  3. Osteoporosis Overview. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin 
  4. Osteoporosis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00232
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
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