What is Osteoporosis?

Most people think of osteoporosis as a bone fracture or loss of height. In reality, there is more to it. Bone constantly remodels or rebuilds itself. As old bone is broken down, new bone replaces it. Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when a person loses more bone than he or she rebuilds or when more bone than normal has broken down.

Linguists translate the word ‘osteoporosis’ as ‘porous bones.’ A porous bone has holes. All bone has cavities that are filled with marrow and blood, but in osteoporosis, the normal bony cavities grow larger. As the holes enlarge, the bones become fragile, spongy and more apt to break. Then, a small accident or trauma can trigger a bone fracture. This systemic disorder can produce fractures throughout the entire spine and skeletal structure.

Women are more at Risk

Women generally have less bone mass, but they are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Studies have shown that after 40, a woman’s bone mass decreases 1 to 5 percent yearly. In contrast, men over 40 lose less than 1 percent each year. This difference may result from the sudden loss of estrogen due to menopause. Estrogen is a sex hormone that is instrumental in building healthy bone.

Loss of Height

As we age a certain amount of loss of height usually occurs. Height loss, however, may be related to fractures in the spinal column due to osteoporosis. Between 60 to 70 percent of women over the age of 65 are affected by at least one of these vertebral compression fractures, as they are known. Moreover, studies show that 20 percent of individuals who have a vertebral fracture will sustain a second fracture within the year.

Facts on Fractures:

  • Persons with compression fractures have a 900 percent higher relative risk of death than their healthy counterparts.
  • As an American citizen, you may be one of the approximately 1 million people annually who have a fracture related to osteoporosis.
  • Each year, Americans experience nearly 700,000 vertebral compression fractures.
  • About 250,000 wrist fractures occur every year in the United States

Hip fractures are common in the USA:

  • Hip fractures trigger 300,000 hospitalizations each year
  • For women, the risk of hip fracture equals the combined risks of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancers
  • Forecasts show that by 2050, men will experience half of all hip fractures

Multidisciplinary Treatment

Osteoporosis is a complex condition and sometimes requires treatment by many different kinds of doctors. Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in hormonal imbalances and can help diagnose and treat osteoporosis. If you have osteoporosis and have a fracture you may be referred to an Orthopedic Surgery doctor to discuss treatment options for the fracture.

A good resource for further information is:

The National Osteoporosis Foundation
251 18th Street S, Suite 630, Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: (800) 231-4222 / Fax: (703) 414-3742 / www.nof.org