What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.

Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” If you look at healthy bone under a microscope, you will see that parts of it look like a honeycomb. If you have osteoporosis, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much bigger than they are in healthy bone. This means your bones have lost density or mass. It also means that the structure of your bone tissues has become abnormal. As your bones become less dense, they become weaker.

For some people affected by the disease, simple activities such as lifting a child, bending down to pick up a newspaper, bumping into furniture or even sneezing can cause a bone to break. A person with osteoporosis is most likely to break a bone in the hip, spine or wrist. However, other bones may also be affected by the disease.

If you’re age 50 or older and have broken a bone, you should talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider about getting a bone density test. This is the case, even if you break a bone after a serious accident. Broken bones are often related to osteoporosis, except for breaks in the fingers, toes, face and skull.

Because osteoporosis is a disease of the bones, it is important to know some basic information about bones. Your bones are made up of three major components that make them both flexible and strong :

  • Collagen, a protein that gives bones a flexible framework
  • Calcium-phosphate mineral complexes that make bones hard and strong
  • Living bone cells that remove and replace weakened sections of bone

Some people think of bones as hard and lifeless. But, your bones are actually living, growing tissue. Did you know that throughout your life, you constantly lose old bone while you make new bone at the same time?
Children and teenagers form new bone faster than they lose old bone. In fact, even after they stop growing taller, young people continue to make more bone than they lose. This means their bones get denser until they reach what experts call peak bone mass. This is the point when you have the greatest amount of bone you will ever have. It usually happens between the ages of 18 and 25.
Think of your bones as a savings account. There is only as much bone density in your account as you deposit. The critical years for building bone density start before your teen years and may last until your early or mid-20s.
After you reach peak bone mass, the balance between bone formation and bone loss might start to change. In other words, you may start to slowly lose more bone than you form. In midlife, bone loss usually speeds up in both men and women. For most women, bone loss increases after menopause, when estrogen levels drop sharply. In fact, in the five to seven years after menopause, women can lose up to 20 percent or more of their bone density.