Educational Component

What Osteoporosis does to bone
What We Know Now

Osteoporosis means porosity or thinning of the bones. It is a skeletal disease in which the amount of bone tissue is reduced, causing bone to become weak and more susceptible to fracture. In normal young adults, the bones are strong and only break when there is severe trauma, such as an accident. With aging, especially after menopause, bones become thinner and weaken so they break much more easily. These fragility fractures are the hallmark of osteoporosis and are particularly common in the wrist, spine, and hip.

Bone tissue is constantly dissolving and regenerating. During childhood and adolescence, the amount of bone in the skeleton increases, reaching a maximum in the 20s. As we age, the amount that dissolves exceeds the amount created, resulting in an unstable bone. This bone loss continues throughout life for both men and women. For women this becomes especially dramatic during menopause when estrogen levels decline, since estrogen aids in bone regeneration.

Age. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Your bones become weaker and less dense as you age.

Gender. Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you are a woman. Women have less bone tissue and lose bone more rapidly than men because of the changes involved in menopause.

Family History and Personal History of Fractures as an Adult. Susceptibility to fracture may be, in part, hereditary. Young women whose mothers have a history of vertebral fractures also seem to have reduced bone mass. A personal history of a fracture as an adult also increases your fracture risk.

Race. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. However, African American and Hispanic women are at significant risk for developing the disease.

Bone Structure and Body Weight. Small-boned and thin women (under 127 pounds) are at greater risk.

Menopause/Menstrual History. Normal or early menopause (brought about naturally or because of surgery) increases your risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition, women who stop menstruating before menopause because of conditions such as anorexia or bulimia, or because of excessive physical exercise, may also lose bone tissue and develop osteoporosis.

Lifestyle. Current cigarette smoking, drinking too much alcohol, consuming an inadequate amount of calcium or getting little or no weight-bearing exercise, increases your chances of developing osteoporosis.

Medications/Chronic Diseases. Medications to treat disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine disorders (i.e. an under-active thyroid), seizure disorders and gastrointestinal diseases may have side effects that can damage bone and lead to osteoporosis.

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Modified February 22, 2007