What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. It happens when bones become fragile and more likely to break due to a minor fall or simple action such as bending over. These broken bones are often referred to as fragility fractures. Although women appear to be at greatest risk for osteoporosis, men can develop the disease as well.

Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the wrist, hip or spine. Having osteoporosis does not automatically mean that your bones will break, however, it does mean you have a greater risk of fracture.

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

At MedStar Georgetown, the goal of our Fracture Liaison Service is to reduce the occurrence of secondary fragility fractures (broken bones). Knowing your risk factors is the first step in taking an active role in the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. Different physical characteristics and lifestyle factors contribute to osteoporosis in both men and women.

Risk factors you cannot control include:

  • Being over age 50
  • Being female
  • Menopause
  • Family history of osteoporosis or fracture
  • Low body weight/being small and thin

Risk factors you can control include:

  • Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Getting too much protein, sodium and caffeine
  • Having an inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Being underweight or too thin

Also, some medications and diseases can cause bone loss and increase your risk of osteoporosis.

Although risk factors may increase your likelihood of getting osteoporosis, having risk factors does not necessarily mean you have, or will get, the disease.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis usually develops slowly over several years, without any symptoms. Most people do not know they have osteoporosis until they break a hip or wrist or other bone due to a minor fall.

Once your bones are weakened by osteoporosis, you may see signs and symptoms including:

  • Back pain (caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra)
  • Loss of height over time
  • A stooped posture
  • A broken bone that occurs much more easily than expected

As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Dull or radiating pain in the bones or muscles
  • Curvature of the spine
  • Pain in the abdomen and neck
  • Cramps in the legs at night
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Tooth loss

Even though there are treatment options available for this disease, the best medicine is prevention.