OVERVIEW, SYMPTOMS, & CAUSES

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. This increases your risk of broken bones (fractures).

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease because you may not have symptoms. You may not even know you have the disease until you break a bone. Breaks can occur in any bone but happen most often in:

  • Hip bones.
  • Vertebrae in the spine.
  • Wrist.

You can take steps to help prevent osteoporosis and broken bones by:

  • Doing weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or dancing, and lifting weights.
  • Not drinking too much alcohol.
  • Quitting smoking, or not starting if you don’t smoke.
  • Taking your medications, if prescribed.
  • Eating a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.

Who gets osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects women and men of all races and ethnic groups. Osteoporosis can occur at any age, although you are at greater risk as you get older. For many women, the disease begins to develop a year or two before menopause.

  • Osteoporosis is most common in non-Hispanic white women and Asian women.
  • African American and Hispanic women have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis, but they are still at significant risk.
  • Among men, osteoporosis is more common in non-Hispanic whites.

Because women get osteoporosis more than men, many men think they won’t get the disease. But older men and women are at risk for the disease.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is called a “silent” disease” because you typically have no symptoms until a bone breaks or one or more vertebrae in the spine collapse. Symptoms of broken vertebrae include severe back pain, loss of height, or a stooped or hunched posture.

Bones affected by osteoporosis may break very easily or as the result of:

  • Minor falls that would not normally cause a break in a healthy bone.
  • Normal stresses such as bending, lifting, or even coughing.

What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis happens when new bone tissue is not made as fast as old bone tissue is lost. When this happens, too much bone is lost and the bones become weak.

Certain factors may make you more at risk of developing the disease. There are some factors that you cannot change, and others that you may be able to change. Factors that may increase your risk for osteoporosis include:

  • Sex. If you are a woman, you are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. However, men are still at risk, especially after the age of 70.
  • Age. As you age, your bones can get weaker.
  • Body size. Slender, thin-boned women and men are at greater risk to develop osteoporosis.
  • Race. White and Asian women are at highest risk. African American and Mexican American women have a lower risk. 
  • Family history. Your risk for osteoporosis and broken bones may increase if one of your parents has a history of osteoporosis or hip fracture.
  • Changes to hormones. Low levels of certain hormones can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis.
  • Diet. A diet low in calcium and vitamin D can increase your risk for osteoporosis and broken bones. Dieting too much or getting too little protein may also increase your risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.
  • Other medical conditions. Some medical conditions can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Medications. Long-term use of certain medications may make you more likely to develop bone loss and osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle can be important for keeping bones strong. Lifestyle changes that may cause bone loss include:
    • Not getting enough exercise and being inactive for long periods of time.
    • Long-term heavy drinking of alcohol.
    • Smoking.