Osteoporosis Overview

While more common in older women, osteoporosis can affect men and women of any age.

An estimated 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or are at risk of the disease because they have low bone mass. Approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.  

Osteoporosis is commonly known as the “brittle bone disease.” While osteoporosis is more common in older women, it can affect men and women of any age. People with the condition are especially at risk of breaking bones in their hip, spine and wrist.

The bones of a person with osteoporosis become thin and weak, putting them at risk of breaking easily. Osteoporosis causes some people to lose height. When osteoporosis causes the bones of the spine to break or collapse, it can cause you to become stooped or hunched. Check out your own bone health here.

Losing Bone Mass

The body continually breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone. As a person ages, more bone is broken down than is replaced. By about age 30, a person’s bone mass stops increasing. Women lose bone quickly in the first four to eight years after menopause. This is because menopause causes women to produce less of the hormone estrogen, which is important in building and maintaining bone.

By age 65, men and women tend to lose bone at about the same rate. This more gradual bone loss continues throughout a person’s life.

Aside from being female and being older, risk factors for osteoporosis include being slender and thin-boned, and being white or Asian. Having a family history of osteoporosis also increases your risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • A diet low in calcium and vitamin D
  • Certain medication conditions including eating disorders, chronic lung disease, chronic liver or kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and endometriosis
  • Long-term use of certain medications, including glucocorticoids, which are used to control diseases such as arthritis and asthma; some anti-seizure medications; anticlotting drugs such as heparin; drugs that suppress the immune system; lithium; proton pump inhibitors; and drugs used to treat prostate cancer.
  • Low levels of physical activity and prolonged best rest
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking

Men have many of the same risk factors for osteoporosis as women do, such as a family history, taking steroid medications, not exercising, drinking too much or smoking. Having low testosterone levels also puts a man at risk. Certain health conditions can put men at risk, such as chronic kidney, lung or gastrointestinal disease, prostate cancer and certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Your risk of falling and fracturing a bone are increased if you have poor balance, decreased muscle strength, poor eyesight and impaired mental abilities. Some medications, such as muscle relaxants and tranquilizers, can also increase your risk of falls.

Taking steps in the teen years can help prevent osteoporosis later in life. If you already have osteoporosis, you can take steps to slow down progression of the disease and reduce your risk of fractures. The best way to prevent osteoporosis is by getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, exercising and not smoking or drinking.

Updated on: 05/12/15
Continue Reading:
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Osteoporosis