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Healthcare: Rheumatology Services

Osteoporosis

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Healthwise, Incorporated.
Healthy Bone Versus Bone Weakened by Osteoporosis
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About Osteoporosis

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Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones. It means that you have bones that are thin and brittle with lots of holes inside them like a sponge. This makes them easy to break. Osteoporosis can lead to broken bones (fractures) in the hip, spine, and wrist. These fractures can be disabling and may make it hard for you to live on your own.

Osteoporosis affects millions of older adults. It usually occurs after age 60. It's most common in women, but men can get it too.

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What Increases Your Risk of Osteoporosis?

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The risk of osteoporosis increases with age as bones naturally become thinner. Whether a person develops osteoporosis depends on the thickness of the bones (bone density) in early life, as well as health, diet, and physical activity later in life. Factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis in both men and women include:

  • Having a family history of osteoporosis. If your mother, father, or sibling has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or has experienced broken bones from a minor injury, you are more likely to develop osteoporosis. 
  • Lifestyle factors. These include:
    • Smoking. People who smoke lose bone density faster than nonsmokers.
    • Alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use can decrease bone formation, and it increases the risk of failing. Heavy alcohol use is more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women. 
    • Getting little or no exercise. Weight-bearing exercises - such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting weights - keep bones strong and healthy by working the muscles and bones against gravity. Exercise may improve your balance and decrease your risk of falling.
    • Being small-framed or thin. Thin people and those with small frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis. But being overweight puts women at risk for other serious medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease (CAD).
    • A diet low in foods containing calcium and vitamin D.
  • Having certain medical conditions. Some medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism or hyperparathyroidism, put you at greater risk for osteoporosis.
  • Taking certain medicines. Several medicines, such as corticosteroids used for long periods, cause bone thinning.
  • Having certain surgeries, such as having your ovaries removed before menopause.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis may include:

  • Being of European and Asian ancestry, the people most likely to have osteoporosis.
  • Being inactive or bedridden for long periods of time.
  • Excessive dieting or having an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.
  • Being a female athlete, if you have infrequent menstrual cycles due to low body fat.

Women who have completed menopause have the greatest risk for osteoporosis because of their levels of the estrogen hormone drop. Estrogen protects women from bone loss. Likewise, women who no longer have menstrual periods - either because their ovaries are not working properly or because their ovaries have been surgically removed also can have lower estrogen levels.

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