Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist. While women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease, men also suffer from osteoporosis. Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, or 55 percent of the people 50 years of age and older. In the U.S., 10 million individuals are estimated to already have the disease and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Of the 10 million Americans estimated to have osteoporosis, eight million are women and two million are men. Significant risk has been reported in people of all ethnic backgrounds. While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person’s disease, it can strike at any age.
Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others. Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis and fractures are called “risk factors.” These risk factors include Personal history of fracture after age 50, current low bone mass, being female as well as advance age. If you have a family history of osteoporosis, your chances are high as well.
By about age 20, the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis later. There ways that can optimize bone health and help prevent osteoporosis. Experts suggest that you have a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, do weight-bearing and resistance-training exercises, have a healthy lifestyle with no smoking or excessive alcohol intake and also make it a habit to talking to your healthcare professional about bone health and have bone density testing and medication when appropriate. The more you know about these risks and what you can do about it, may save you or someone you love in the future.