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You may have heard about osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become brittle and your risk of fractures goes up drastically. Don't think osteoporosis is just a senior citizens' disease though; while people over 75 are indeed at risk, osteoporosis can happen to people of any age.
Because there usually aren't any symptoms, many people don't know they have the condition until they get a fracture. The good news is that you can take many proactive steps to safeguard your bone health.
Are you familiar with the basics of osteoporosis, and do you know what you can do towards prevention? How about diagnosis and treatment?
What's Osteoporosis, And Who Gets It?
Osteoporosis is a Greek word that literally means "porous bones". It is a progressive bone disease in which both bone mass and density decrease, leading to an increased risk of fractures.
Bone loss happens gradually over time, and many patients don't find out that they have osteoporosis until the first fracture occurs.
Most people don't think about their bones an awful lot, but they are living tissue just like any of our organs, and they change and develop constantly throughout our lives. People in their twenties have the densest bones, and some bone cells are lost as we get older — but they're also replaced with new bone cells.
If the loss of bone cells happens more quickly than their replacement, osteoporosis can result. In osteoporosis patients, the bone mineral density decreases, the protein variety and amount goes down, and the bone's micro-architecture suffers.
There are three types of osteoporosis. Primary Type 1 is post-menopausal osteoporosis, which obviously occurs only in women. Primary Type 2 happens after age 75 and can affect people of both sexes. Secondary osteoporosis affects both men and women equally, occurs at any age, and is caused by certain medical conditions or medications.
Globally, one in three women and one in five men are at risk of osteoporotic fractures. The spine, hip and wrists are most commonly affected, and the risk of fractures goes up with age.
Some osteoporosis risk factors are fixed, so you can't do anything about them. Significant fixed risk factors include being female, post-menopausal, and older. Medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, a family history of osteoporosis, and being Asian or Caucasian are other fixed risk factors.
Certain lifestyle choices can also place a person at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Poor nutrition, a vitamin D deficiency, low calcium intake, and not exercising enough can all make your risk go up.
High alcohol consumption and smoking can do the same, and people who have eating disorders or have a low body weight are also at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.