Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that is characterized by reduced bone mass and bone quality. In other words osteoporosis is characterized by weak, deteriorating bones. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures, notably at the hip, spine, and wrist.
Osteoporosis is often associated with aging. Medical experts, however, increasingly believe that osteoporosis is not an unavoidable part of aging and that it is largely preventable. Moreover people already affected by osteoporosis may be able to take steps to slow its progress and reduce risk of fractures.
Men and women can both develop osteoporosis, though it occurs more frequently in women. According to the National Institutes of Health, of the 44 million Americans affected by osteoporosis, 68 percent are women. Osteoporosis is most common in Caucasian postmenopausal women. To a lesser degree, Asian, Hispanic, and African-American women are at risk of fractures.
Throughout an individual’s lifetime, bone undergoes a continuous process of removal of old bone (called resorption) and addition of new bone (called formation). This process makes bones larger, heavier, and denser. Peak bone mass is reached around age 30. After age 30, bone resorption begins to outpace bone formation—meaning bone is removed at higher rate than it is replaced.
Osteoporosis is a condition associated with an increased risk of bone fracture. The increased risk is related to a decrease in the amount of calcium in bones causing a weakening of bone structure. With decreased bone quality, individuals are at increased risk of spontaneous fractures as well as those associated with falls. A primary location for fracture is the lumbar and thoracic spine. Other skeletal structures at risk include the hips, pelvis, and wrists.
Osteoporosis is a serious medical condition. In the year following a hip fracture, up to 20% of patients die. Rehabilitation care is required for another 20% and 50% of individuals never fully recover.
The 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You. Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site. Available at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/bonehealth/docs/OsteoBrochure1mar05.pdf.
Osteoporosis Overview. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Web site. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/default.asp.
Fast Facts. National Osteoporosis Foundation Web site. Available at http://www.nof.org/osteoporosis/diseasefacts.htm.