Osteoporosis is a disease in which you lose bone mass and the bone tissue deteriorates, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). This loss of bone mass leaves the bones fragile and easily broken – especially the hip, spine and wrist.
Oftentimes, osteoporosis is called a silent disease because the bone loss happens with no symptoms. People might not even know they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a slight bump or fall causes a fractures, according to the NIH.
Your body needs the minerals calcium and phosphate to make and keep healthy bones.
During your life, your body continues to both reabsorb old bone and create new bone. Your entire skeleton is replaced about every 10 years.
As long as your body has a good balance of new and old bone, your bones stay healthy and strong.
Bone loss occurs when more old bone is reabsorbed than new bone is created.
Sometimes bone loss occurs without any known cause. Other times, bone loss and thin bones run in families and the disease is inherited. In general, white, older women are the most likely to have bone loss. This increases their risk of breaking a bone.
Brittle, fragile bones can be caused by anything that makes your body destroy too much bone, or keeps your body from making enough bone.
Weak bones can break easily, even without an obvious injury.
Aging and Bone Loss
As you age, your body may reabsorb calcium and phosphate from your bones instead of keeping these minerals in your bones. This makes your bones weaker. When this process reaches a certain stage, it is called osteoporosis.
Many times, a person will fracture a bone before they even know they have bone loss. By the time a fracture occurs, the bone loss is serious.
Women over age 50 and men over age 70 have a higher risk of osteoporosis than younger women and men.
For women, a drop in estrogen at the time of menopause is a major cause of bone loss.
For men, a drop in testosterone as they age can cause bone loss.
‘Thinning’ of the bones (osteoporosis) usually develops slowly over several years, without any symptoms. However, after a certain amount of bone loss, the following may occur.
A bone fracture after a minor injury such as a fall
This is often the first sign or indication that you have osteoporosis. If you have osteoporosis, the force of a simple fall to the ground (from the height of a standard chair or less) is often enough to fracture a bone. A simple fall to the ground such as this does not usually cause a fracture in someone without osteoporosis. A bone fracture after a minor injury like this is known as a fragility fracture.
The most common fragility fractures occur in the hip, the wrist and the bones that make up the spine (vertebrae). A fractured bone in an older person can have serious consequences in some people. For example, about half the people who have a hip fracture are unable to live independently afterwards because of permanent mobility problems. Read more about hip fracture.
Having weaker bones does not in itself give you any symptoms. Unless you have had a fracture, aches and pains are NOT a symptom of osteoporosis. It does not cause pain other than as the result of a fracture. If you have not had a fracture and you have a pain, this will be due to another problem, not your osteoporosis. Having said that, fractures in the vertebrae are often not picked up. So if you have a new severe back pain and you know you have osteoporosis, you should tell your doctor. An X-ray can then be arranged to check you have not had a fracture.
Loss of height, persistent back pain and a bent forward (stooping) posture
These symptoms can occur if you develop one or more fractured vertebrae. A vertebra affected by osteoporosis may fracture even without a fall or significant force on it. The vertebrae can become squashed following a fracture. If severe, a bent forward posture may affect your ability to go about your usual daily activities. It can also affect your breathing, as your lungs have less room to expand within your chest.