Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Osteoporosis Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

What Is Osteoporosis? What You Need to Know

What is osteoporosis anyway? Is osteoporosis a normal sign of aging? Does osteoporosis only affect women? Read on to learn the truth about osteoporosis and your bones.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common disease that weakens bones. As bones weaken, your risk of sudden and unexpected fractures increases. Osteopenia is the forerunner of osteoporosis. It is a silent but destructive condition that robs bones during a woman's -- even a young woman's -- most productive time.

No matter what your age or sex, osteoporosis and osteopenia can affect you. Your bones might seem sturdy now. You may be very active and doing the things you want. But osteoporosis and osteopenia are quiet, accomplished thieves. In fact, there are usually no visible signs. You may notice a loss of height or a Dowager's hump over time. But chances are good the first sign that you have one of these conditions will be a broken bone.

What Is Osteoporosis Bone Loss?

The bone loss with osteoporosis occurs over many years and can become severe. It may be so severe that the normal stress on bones from sitting, standing, coughing, or even hugging a loved one can result in painful fractures and immobility. Then, after the first fracture, you are at risk for more fractures. These future fractures may cause you to live with daily chronic pain and disability. 

Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to help keep your bones strong. 

What Are Osteoporosis Symptoms?

Osteoporosis often progresses without symptoms or pain. Losing height may be noticeable. Or a Dowager's hump in your spine may develop with age. Usually, though, a doctor diagnoses osteoporosis after a painful fracture occurs. That fracture is often in the back or hips.

 

What Is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia refers to early signs of bone loss that can turn into osteoporosis. With osteopenia, bone mineral density is lower than normal. However, it is not yet low enough to be considered osteoporosis. A bone density test can detect osteopenia.

For more information, see WebMD's Bone Density Tests.

What Is an Osteoporosis Fracture?

A fracture is a break in a bone. If you have osteoporosis, your bones become thin, lose structure, and become fragile. You could lift a bag of groceries and suffer a fracture or a collapsed vertebra in your back. Or you might stoop down to tie your shoe and feel a sudden, severe pain from a fracture.

While the pain from the fracture may subside, you may develop continued chronic pain. As spinal bones collapse, deformities such as a dowager's hump will become obvious to both you and people around you. You may feel stiff and have trouble being active.

 

What Causes Osteoporosis?

We don't know a lot about what causes osteoporosis. We do know how osteoporosis develops throughout a person's life. Bones are complex, living tissue. Your body constantly breaks down old bone and rebuilds new bone. This bone-building process is called "remodeling."

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Women working out and walking with weights
Reduce bone loss and build stronger muscles.
Chinese cabbage
Calcium-rich foods to add to your diet.
 
woman stretching
Get the facts on osteoporosis.
Porous bone
Causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.
 
Lactose Intolerance
Article
Woman holding plate of brocolli
Article
 
Dairy products
Tool
Superfood for Bones
Slideshow
 
Screening Tests for Women
Slideshow
exercise endometrial cancer
Article
 
hand holding medicine
Article
Working Out With Osteoporosis
Video