What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a serious yet pain-free and symptomless bone disease that affects mostly women. Among those affected, bones become increasingly fragile and porous, resulting in painful breaks or fractures — even when accidents or falls are minor. In fact, one third of all women will break a bone due to osteoporosis during their lifetime.
Every month, our bones are changing in a process called remodeling. Cyclically, old bone is broken down and new bone is made. But as we age, under certain circumstances, we can actually lose bone faster than we rebuild it. Bone loss leading to bone fractures can begin in women as early as 20 years old, though mostly postmenopausal women over 50 suffer osteoporosis. This is because hormone balance contributes to a healthy equality of bone gain and loss. Estrogen, which diminishes after menopause, increases bone mass, helping to prevent the disease.
Risk Factors & Symptoms
Two major factors determine your risk of developing osteoporosis: peak bone mass and rate of bone loss. These two determinants are influenced by a number of genetic and environmental factors.
You are at risk if you are an aging woman, you are thin, or your sex hormones are low as occurs during natural or surgical menopause. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis, as do some medications.
Risk Factors At A Glance
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) outlines these well-established risk factors:
- Being a Caucasian or Asian woman
- Advanced age
- Early or surgically induced menopause
- Chronic corticosteroid use
- Maternal history of osteoporosis
Less well-established risk factors include:
- Low weight-to-height ratio
- Prolonged bed rest
- High alcohol consumption
- Low calcium intake
- Cigarette smoking
- High protein/phosphate intake
- High caffeine consumption
- Physical inactivity
Osteoporosis is called a silent disease because it typically shows no symptoms until you suffer a break or fracture. That said, the following symptoms may warn of its onset:
- Prolonged backache
- Gradual loss of height and stooped posture
- Loss of jaw bone, as determined by dental x-rays
Spinal Fractures & Symptoms
Many osteoporosis injuries occur as compression fractures of the spine. A compression fracture is a break caused by trauma, most often a fall. In a spinal compression fracture, weakened bones cause the spine to collapse.
Most spinal compression fractures are never diagnosed because those affected mistakenly think that they are suffering from simple back pain as a result of aging or arthritis. You may be experiencing severe spinal fracture if you feel any of these symptoms during everyday activities:
- Sudden, severe back, hip or abdominal pain
- Worsening of pain when standing or walking
- Some pain relief when lying down
- Difficulty and pain when bending or twisting
- Breathing problems
Download an Osteoporosis Fact Sheet