Health Topics

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them more susceptible to sudden and unexpected fractures. Literally meaning "porous bone," it results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength. The disease often progresses without any symptoms or pain. Generally, it is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful fractures. Most of these are fractures of the hip, wrist and spine.

Though osteoporosis occurs in both men and women, women are four times more likely to develop the disease than men. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring. Treatments can also slow the rate of bone loss if osteoporosis is present.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

Though we do not know the exact cause of osteoporosis, we do understand how the disease develops. Your bones are made of living, growing tissue. An outer shell of cortical or dense bone encases trabecular or spongy bone. The inside of healthy bone resembles a sponge. When osteoporosis occurs, the "holes" in the "sponge" grow larger and more numerous, weakening the internal structure of the bone.

In addition to supporting the body and protecting vital organs, bones store calcium and other minerals. When the body needs calcium, it breaks down and rebuilds bone. This process, called "bone remodeling," supplies the body with needed calcium while keeping the bones strong.

Up until about age 30, a person normally builds more bone than he or she loses. After age 35, bone breakdown outpaces bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. In a person with osteoporosis, bone mass is lost at an accelerated rate.

How Can I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?

Painless and accurate medical tests can provide you with information about your bone health before problems begin. Bone Mineral Density tests (BMD tests), or bone measurements, also known as Dual X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan, are x-rays that use very small amounts of radiation to determine the bone density of the spine, hip, wrist or heel. Your physician can order these tests for you.

How Is Osteoporosis Treated?

There are several, different treatment options for Osteoporosis. Common options include:

  • Estrogen therapy
  • Medications – Fosamax® (aledronate sodium), Actonel® (risedronate), Boniva®(ibandronate), Reclast® (zoledronic acid), Evista® (raloxifene) and Forteo® (teriparatide)
  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Weight-bearing exercise

For more information on osteoporosis, download the Free Osteoporosis Treatment Guide.