Conditions InDepth: Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become weak and brittle. If left unchecked, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks (fracture). Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hips, spine, and wrists. If diagnosed early, progression of osteoporosis can be slowed and complications prevented.

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Throughout life, old bone is lost and new bone is added to the skeleton. During childhood and adolescence, new bone is added faster than old bone is removed. As a result, bones become heavier, larger, and denser. Peak bone mass is reached around age 30. From that point on, more bone is lost than is replaced, usually at a slow rate. When women reach menopause and their estrogen level drops, bone loss begins to more rapidly exceed bone replacement. If not treated, excessive bone losses may lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is more likely to occur if optimal bone mass was not achieved during the bone-building years.Bone density also plays a role in bone health. Bone density is determined in part by the amount of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals contained within the framework of the bone. As the mineral content of a bone (especially calcium) decreases, the bone becomes weaker. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D and exercising regularly can help ensure that bones stay strong throughout life.An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis; 80% are women.What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?How is osteoporosis diagnosed?What are the treatments for osteoporosis?Are there screening tests for osteoporosis?How can I reduce my risk of osteoporosis?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with osteoporosis?Where can I get more information about osteoporosis?

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