Osteoporosis Overview

Could it affect you?

Osteoporosis means "porous bone," and it's a disorder characterized by "holey" bones. This might be confusing because if you viewed a healthy bone under a microscope, it would have gaps similar to those in a honeycomb. But an osteoporotic bone contains much bigger spaces than healthy bones.

Though post-menopausal women are most commonly associated with osteoporosis, men also experience it. In fact, it's estimated that 20% of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are men.

Bones—Change and Growth
Your bones are living structures that change and grow. It might be hard to believe, but your skeletal frame loses old bone and forms new bone throughout your life. This is a process called remodeling, and you can learn more about it in our article about maintaining strong bones.

As a teenager, you grow more bone than you lose. Between the ages of 18 and 25, you'll have attained the greatest amount of bone you will ever have. This is called peak bone mass.

But as we age, our ability to rebuild new bone gradually slows down, and bone loss rises. For many women, bone loss becomes a major problem because of the significant drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen supports osteoblasts, which produce bone. When estrogen levels drop, your body's ability to make new bone drops as well. This process may eventually cause a significant loss of bone mass or density, resulting in osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis and Broken Bones
If you have osteoporosis, your bones are weak and prone to fracture. Fractured bones caused by osteoporosis are most commonly located in the hip, spine, and wrist.

These fractures result in a variety of complications:

  • Severe, chronic pain
  • Loss of height
  • Stooped posture
  • Restricted mobility
  • Depression

To learn more, read our article about complications associated with osteoporosis.

Avoiding Osteoporosis
It is a common disorder, but osteoporosis can be prevented.There are usually no tell-tale osteoporosis symptoms, and sometimes the first symptom can be a fracture,so get tested to check your bone health. Even if you're not at high risk, there are lifestyle choices you can adopt to keep your bones strong and healthy through the years.

Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise regularly, and cut out smoking and excessive drinking.

These preventative measures are not a guarantee against osteoporosis, but they will significantly increase your chances of maintaining strong, healthy bones.

View Sources
  • Mayo Clinic Osteoporosis Definition page. Mayo Clinic Health Information Web site. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128. Accessed April 27, 2009.
  • Osteoporosis: What It Is and Who Is at Risk. In the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s Boning Up on Osteoporosis, Second Edition. 2008: 5-15.