Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become brittle and fragile due to low bone mass and bone tissue loss.
It’s the most common type of bone disease, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and increases your risk of fractures, particularly of the hips, spine, and wrists.
In the United States, nearly 54 million people ages 50 and older were living with osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone mass ) in 2010, according to a 2014 article in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
More specifically, 10.2 million adults had osteoporosis, and 43.4 million adults had osteopenia, which puts a person at high risk for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis predominately affects non-Hispanic white women, who account for about 7.7 million cases out of the total.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Bone is not a static part of the body — it’s constantly being resorbed (broken down) and formed throughout your life.
Your entire skeleton is replaced about every decade, according to the NIH.
During your childhood and teenage years, bone formation occurs more quickly than bone resorption, resulting in growth.
You reach your maximum bone density and strength around age 30, after which bone resorption slowly overtakes bone formation.
Osteoporosis develops when there’s an abnormal imbalance between bone resorption and formation — that is, resorption occurs too quickly, or formation too slowly.
Numerous factors are associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Some of these risk factors are inherent and cannot be changed. These factors include:
- Having a family history of fractures
- Being a woman, particularly in postmenopause
- Being age 50 or older
- Having small or thin bones
- Being Caucasian or Asian
Other risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Dietary deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D
- Lack of exercise
- Long-term use of certain medications, including glucocorticoids and some anticonvulsants
- Low estrogen levels (from menopause or missing menstrual periods) in women, or low testosterone in men
Bone fractures are the most serious complication of osteoporosis.
Men account for nearly 30 percent of the more than 2 million osteoporosis-related bone fractures each year, according to a 2006 report in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
Osteoporosis-related bone fractures most commonly occur in the spine, followed by the wrists, hips, and pelvis.
These fractures usually result from minor falls or accidents, but spinal fractures may also occur if the vertebrae (spinal bones) weaken to the point of crumbling.
While some vertebral fractures cause no symptoms, others can cause back pain and a hunched posture.
Aside from causing pain and altering your posture, osteoporosis and bone fractures can reduce mobility and affect your emotional state, resulting in depression and anxiety.
To help prevent osteoporosis:
- Quit smoking and drinking alcohol in excess
- Exercise, such as by walking, climbing stairs, lifting weights, or playing a sport
- Follow a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as by eating dairy foods and those with added calcium, or by taking vitamin D pills
If you have osteoporosis, it’s important to try to prevent falls (which can fracture bones), such as by:
- Keeping your home well-lit and free of clutter
- Installing carpets, handrails, and other devices to reduce the risk of slipping
- Using a cane or walker, and slip-resistant shoes outside
- Getting your vision checked, and wearing glasses or contacts as needed
- Being aware of the side effects of certain medications, such as the risk of drowsiness or dizziness
- Keeping your thigh muscles strong through exercise