What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become brittle, porous and weak. It occurs when the natural bone replacement cycle is disrupted, and old, “worn out” bone tissue is not replaced by healthy new tissue, causing a loss of overall bone mass and making bones far more prone to fractures. Osteoporosis can affect any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the bones in the spine, hips, and legs. People who have osteoporosis can develop fractures from even seemingly simple, everyday activities like walking, sneezing or rolling over in bed.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

The specific underlying cause of osteoporosis hasn’t been identified, but researchers have identified several risk factors, including:

  • smoking
  • older age
  • decreased hormone production
  • inactive or sedentary lifestyle
  • alcohol abuse
  • thyroid disease and some other chronic diseases

Osteoporosis can occur in both men and women, but it’s far more common in women, developing as a part of the aging process when estrogen levels decline during menopause. Bone loss typically begins around age 35, with women losing as much as 50 percent of their bone mass and men losing about 20 to 30 percent of their bone mass during an average lifetime. People who have a family history of osteoporosis are also more likely to develop the disease as they get older.

How is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?

Sometimes, osteoporosis is not diagnosed until a person has a stress fracture or other type of fracture. Bone density testing can help identify the presence of bone loss and osteoporosis before any fractures occur. Bone density testing uses x-rays to assess the amount of bone tissue in a specific portion of the bone. The test is completely painless, quick and noninvasive. Bone density testing can also be used to help manage treatment of the disease.

How is the Disease Treated?

Osteoporosis can be treated with medications and with lifestyle changes, like being more physically active, quitting smoking, losing excess weight that can place added stress and strain on bones, and eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, two macronutrients that play an important part in keeping bones healthy. Having routine exams is also important for keeping the disease is check.