Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become weak and brittle. If left unchecked, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks (fracture). Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hips, spine, and wrists. If diagnosed early, progression of osteoporosis can be slowed and complications prevented.
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Throughout life, old bone is lost and new bone is added to the skeleton. During childhood and adolescence, new bone is added faster than old bone is removed. As a result, bones become heavier, larger, and denser. Peak bone mass is reached around age 30. From that point on, more bone is lost than is replaced, usually at a slow rate. When women reach menopause and their estrogen level drops, bone loss begins to more rapidly exceed bone replacement. If not treated, excessive bone losses may lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is more likely to occur if optimal bone mass was not achieved during the bone-building years.
Bone density also plays a role in bone health. Bone density is determined in part by the amount of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals contained within the framework of the bone. As the mineral content of a bone (especially calcium) decreases, the bone becomes weaker. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D and exercising regularly can help ensure that bones stay strong throughout life.
An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis; 80% are women. An additional 18 million people have low bone mass, which puts them at risk of osteoporosis. In all, osteoporosis affects nearly 40% of women over the age of 50.
Last reviewedSeptember 2011by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.