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What Is Osteoporosis? What You Need to Know

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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."

As you are growing up, your body builds more bone than it removes. During childhood, your bones become larger and stronger. Peak bone mass occurs when you have the maximum amount of bone mass you will ever have. For most people, this usually happens during the third decade of life. At a certain age, the bone remodeling process changes. New bone gets laid down at a slower rate. This slowdown results in a decrease in the total amount of bone you have.

If this loss of bone reaches a certain point, you have osteopenia. When bone loss becomes more severe, you have osteoporosis. 

What Is My Risk for Osteoporosis?

Key risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Family history: Osteoporosis seems to run in families. If your mother had a hip fracture or spinal collapse fracture, chances are you are at risk for osteoporosis.
  • Gender: Women are four times more likely than men to get osteoporosis. But men also suffer from osteoporosis.
  • Age: The risk of osteoporosis increases with age. Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. However, anyone of any age can have osteoporosis. But the older you are, the more risk you have of fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Bone structure and body weight: Petite and thin women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Weight loss after age 50 in women also seems to increase the risk of hip fractures. Weight gain decreases the risk. Small-boned, thin men have a greater risk of osteoporosis than men with larger frames and more body weight.
  • History of fractures: Having one fracture increases the chance of more fractures.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of fractures. Studies show that cigarette smokers (past or current smokers) have lower bone densities and higher fracture risks. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen -- a key component for having healthy bones -- compared to nonsmokers. They also frequently go through menopause earlier.
  • Medications: Some medications may increase your risk of osteoporosis. These include long-term use of steroids (prednisone), thyroid drugs, anticonvulsants, antacids, and other drugs.

 

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