What is Osteoporosis?

Did you know bone is living tissue?1 Our bones are constantly turning over cells, breaking down old bone cells and replacing them with new ones. Osteoporosis happens when our body can’t keep up in replacing old bone, which eventually leads to decreased bone density and decreased bone mass. This is what can lead to bones becoming weak and brittle.2

What are symptoms of osteoporosis?

Unfortunately, there usually aren’t symptoms of early bone loss. Once you’ve developed weakened bones, however, you may notice symptoms such as:3

  • Back pain
  • Loss of height
  • A hunched posture
  • Bones that break easily

If you notice any of these symptoms, your doctor may recommend a bone density test.  

What causes osteoporosis?

A decrease in bone mineral density is what causes weak bones. But just like other medical conditions, there are factors that can increase or decrease our chances of developing osteoporosis. Since we typically reach our peak bone mass by age 30, the risk of getting osteoporosis in part depends on how much bone mass we acquired up until that point. The more bone mass you have, the less likely you are to develop brittle bones as you age. That said, there are quite a few risk factors to keep in mind — many of which we can control:3

  • Hormone levels: People with too much or too little of certain hormones have a greater risk of getting osteoporosis, this can include low sex hormones, thyroid issues and overactive glands.
  • Diet: Low calcium and vitamin D intake, being underweight and restricting food intake may weaken bones.
  • Steroids and other medicines: Using certain kinds of medications can cause long-term effects on the bone-building process.
  • Medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney or liver disease, cancer or rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk.
  • Lifestyle choices: Poor habits can raise your risk of getting osteoporosis, like a sedentary lifestyle, heavy alcohol use and using tobacco.
  • Family history: Someone with a family history of osteoporosis has a higher risk of developing it.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose osteoporosis using a bone density test. This painless test uses X-rays to find the proportion of mineral in your bones to help determine low bone density, risk of future fractures and whether or not an osteoporosis treatment is working.3

How is osteoporosis treated?

Osteoporosis treatment focuses on slowing bone loss and preventing fractures. If you’re at a high risk of breaking a bone in the next 10 years, your doctor might recommend osteoporosis medications. If your treatment plan includes medicine, be sure to talk with your doctor about all the possible side effects so you can make an informed decision. On the other hand, if you have a low chance of breaking a bone, your treatment could simply focus on lifestyle habits to help strengthen your bones.3

Can I help prevent osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis prevention is important. In some ways, that prevention starts in childhood with a healthy, active lifestyle. But it’s just as important to keep your bone health top-of-mind as you age. Here are some ideas: 4

  • Exercise. The more active and fit you are as you age, the less likely you are to fall and break a bone.
  • Eat well. A nutritious diet that’s high in calcium and vitamin D is beneficial for bone health.
  • Don’t smoke or use other forms of tobacco. Smoking speeds up bone loss.
  • Limit alcohol if you choose to drink. Having more than 2 drinks a day might decrease bone formation.

When should I see a doctor about osteoporosis?

In addition to noticing signs of osteoporosis, you should think about seeing your doctor if you went through early menopause or took corticosteroids for many months. Or, if one of your parents had a hip fracture. With the right treatment and preventive measures, you can take control of your bone health and manage (or even prevent) osteoporosis.