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 Fact sheet
What is osteoporosis?
How common is osteoporosis?
Who is at risk of getting osteoporosis?
Can osteoporosis be treated?
Can osteoporosis be prevented?
Who should be screened?
What are the symptoms?
Where can I find more information?




What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become weak and can break easily. Often people don't know that they have osteoporosis until a bone actually breaks (or fractures). Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common bones that break are in the hip, back and wrist. The condition is quite serious because fractures can lead to pain, hospitalizations, surgery, disability and even death.

Bones are made up mostly of proteins and minerals. Two minerals that are especially important in bone are calcium and phosphorus. Bones are living tissues and old bone cells are always being replaced by new ones. There are special cells that build up new bone (osteoblasts) while other cells (osteoclasts) break down the old bone. As people get older, their bodies don't replace all the bone that has been broken down, and bones tend to become weaker and more likely to break.

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What are the most common types of bone breaks (fractures) due to osteoporosis?
Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common bones that break are the hip, wrist and spine. Click on the specific bones below for more on that type of fracture.

  • Hip
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  • Wrist
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  • Spine
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How common is osteoporosis?
Over 10 million people in the United States already have osteoporosis. About 18 million others have lost some bone mass and are likely to develop osteoporosis in the future. More than 80% of those affected are women.

Osteoporosis leads to over 1 1/2 million fractures each year in this country. One out of two women and one out of eight men over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture related to osteoporosis at some point during their lives.


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Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis?
Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but women are at higher risk than men. In both men and women, the risk of osteoporosis goes up with age, with bone loss usually starting slowly around age 30. For men, bone loss tends to occur gradually over time, while women experience a period of heightened bone loss around menopause that then slows down again after a few years.

Thin people with small bones are at the highest risk of osteoporosis. And this relates to another reason women experience higher rates of osteoporosis than men: they often simply begin with less bone mass.

Of all racial and ethnic groups, African Americans tend to be at the lowest risk, but all races and ethnicities suffer from osteoporosis.


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Can osteoporosis be treated?
It is best to prevent osteoporosis before it starts, and there are many steps that everyone can take to decrease the risk of bone loss. If you are at high risk of osteoporosis or are already experiencing bone loss, talk to your doctor about available treatments. There are medications that can slow the rate of bone loss and even help rebuild bone.

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How can you prevent osteoporosis?
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of osteoporosis:
  • Don't smoke
  • Get regular weight bearing exercise like dancing, walking or climbing stairs
  • Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Eat green leafy vegetables that contain vitamin K, like kale, spinach, broccoli and cabbage
  • Talk to your doctor to see if postmenopausal hormones are right for you

 

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Who should be screened?
There are no good screening tests to identify people who will develop bone loss and fractures. However, if you have osteoporosis risk factors or symptoms, there are tests (like xrays and bone scans) your doctor can do to see if you've had bone loss.

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What are the symptoms?
Bone loss can continue for many years without causing any symptoms, so many people with osteoporosis don't know they have it. Sometimes the first symptom is a broken bone. Vertebra (bones in the back) can break leading to pain, loss of height, or back deformities. Hip fractures can lead to pain, surgery, disability and even death. Fractures of the wrist and other bones can also lead to pain, hospitalization and disability. That's why preventing osteoporosis is important.

For more information on osteoporosis, visit these web sites: Back to top