What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them more susceptible
sudden and unexpected fractures. Literally meaning "porous bone," it results in
an increased loss of bone mass and strength. The disease often progresses without any
symptoms or pain. Generally, it is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful
fractures. Most of these are fractures of the hip, wrist and spine.
Though osteoporosis occurs in both men and women, women are four times more likely to
develop the disease than men.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring.
Treatments can also slow the rate of bone loss if osteoporosis is present.
What causes osteoporosis?
Though we do not know the exact cause of osteoporosis, we do understand how the
disease develops. Your bones are made of living, growing tissue. An outer shell of
cortical or dense bone encases trabecular or spongy bone. The inside of healthy bone
resembles a sponge. When osteoporosis occurs, the "holes" in the
"sponge" grow larger and more numerous, weakening the internal structure of the
In addition to supporting the body and protecting vital organs, bones store calcium and
other minerals. When the body needs calcium, it breaks down and rebuilds bone. This
process, called "bone remolding," supplies the body with needed calcium while
keeping the bones strong.
Up until about age 30, a person normally builds more bone than he or she loses. After
age 35, bone breakdown outpaces bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. In
a person with osteoporosis, bone mass is lost at an accelerated rate.
Who is most at risk for developing osteoporosis?
There are many risk factors which, when present, increase your chance of
Gender--Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing
osteoporosis. Women experience rapid bone loss during and 5 to 10 years after menopause.
Menopause decreases the production of estrogen, a hormone which protects against excess
Age--Your risk for osteoporosis increases as you age.
Race--Women of Caucasian and Asian descent are more likely to develop
Bone structure and body weight--Petite and thin people have a greater risk of
developing osteoporosis because they have less bone to lose than people with more body
weight and larger frames.
Family history--If your parents or grandparents have had any signs of
osteoporosis, such as a fractured hip after a minor fall, you may have a greater risk of
developing the disease.