Osteoporotic bones are more porous than healthy bones, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures. Many times those with osteoporosis don’t know they have the disease until they experience a fracture. In fact, it is often referred to as the “silent disease.”
Osteoporosis is one of the most common and potentially debilitating chronic diseases, and a global healthcare problem, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. Around the world, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture.
Human bones are a living system – like the skin and other organs – with approximately 10 percent being renewed each year. Strong bones are critical to our health and well-being. They support us and allow us to move, and they help protect vital organs – including our heart, lungs and brain – from injury. Our bones are also a storehouse for vital minerals.
Because our bones are alive, our bodies constantly remove old bone while making new bone at the same time. There are two main kinds of cells involved in this process: one dissolves the old bone, the other replaces it by building or “filling in” new bone.
Osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging, but rather occurs when more bone is removed than replaced. The hormonal changes that take place at menopause are one reason why women are at greater risk of osteoporosis than men. After our mid-20s, the balance between “bone building” and “bone dissolving” may start to change, and bone loss usually speeds up over time. For most women, bone loss increases after menopause. In fact, in the five to seven years after menopause, women can lose 20 percent or more of their bone density.
While genetics and family history play an important role in determining your osteoporosis risk, there are many things you can do to help preserve your bone health. Take steps to help avoid osteoporosis by ensuring a nutritious diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D. You can also engage in regular weight-bearing activity to help increase your bone health. And, avoid smoking, second-hand smoke, and heavy drinking.
Because the risk factors are so varied, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your bone health.
“While osteoporosis may be the ‘silent epidemic,’ when it comes to bone health, we should be anything but silent. Today, we know more and more about the importance of healthy bones and how to preserve bone health,” said Judy Stenmark, CEO, International Osteoporosis Foundation. “It’s important for both men and women to talk to their doctors about their individual risk factors and to get screened for osteoporosis. These are important steps everyone can take in combating the disease.”
Doctors can diagnose osteoporosis through a painless, non-invasive scan that takes less than 15 minutes; it's called a bone density test or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Experts generally recommend women ages 65 and older be routinely screened for osteoporosis as well as those who are at an increased risk for fracture. Learn more about preventive measures you can take against osteoporosis at the International Osteoporosis Foundation website.
Other risk factors for osteoporosis include: