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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis [os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis] is a disease that makes bones thinner and weaker. If you have osteoporosis, it is much easier for your bones to break.

Osteoporosis is most common in older women, but can happen to anyone. Women are more likely to get this disease because their bones are smaller and less dense than men’s. Women also lose bone mass after menopause, increasing their chances of getting osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease, meaning it doesn’t have any symptoms at first, and it’s hard for doctors to tell you have it unless you fall and a break a bone or have a special bone density test.

People of all ages should try to get plenty of calcium in their diet so they can keep their bones strong and limit how much bone mass they lose as they get older.

When to See a Doctor

You should see your doctor right away if you think you’ve fractured a bone, or want to have a bone density test to check for bone loss. Since osteoporosis is a silent disease, it is hard to know if you have it without a test.


The primary cause of osteoporosis is bone loss.  Many factors can cause this loss of bone mass or density:

  • Age. Bone loss increases as you get older.
  • Small or thin figure.  Having larger bones means it takes longer for them to lose enough mass and density to cause osteoporosis. Bone loss in smaller bones makes them less strong more quickly.
  • Family history.  People with a family history of osteoporosis are more likely to have it themselves.
  • Medicine. Some kinds of medicine can weaken your bones.
  • Race. White women, Mexican-American women, and Asian women have a higher risk of osteoporosis because they tend to have smaller figures.
  • Low bone density.  Other conditions can make your bones less dense, making it easier to get osteoporosis.
  • Tobacco use. The chemicals in tobacco can weaken your bones and reduce their density.
  • Menopause. Bone loss can speed up after menopause, which can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Lack of calcium. Calcium helps the body build bones and keep them strong. If you don’t get enough, your body has less material to work with.
  • Eating disorders. Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia can lead to malnutrition, which can hurt bone health.
  • Lack of exercise. Exercise helps keep bones strong and dense.
  • Alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can harm your bones. Too much at one time can lead to falls.

Diagnosis and Tests

Osteoporosis can be checked with a bone density test. A bone density test is an x-ray test that takes a picture of your bones to see if they have the same thickness as a healthy person at your age or growth level.

Bone density tests are recommended if:

  • You are 65 or older
  • You are younger than 65 but have other risk factors for osteoporosis
The doctor may also ask questions about your medical and family history to figure out if you are at risk for bone loss or osteoporosis.


There are many treatment options for osteoporosis. Some of them include:

  • Medicines or supplements to help increase bone strength and bone density. Ask your doctor which medicine might be right for you. Some medicines have higher risks than others, and may cause side effects.
  • Hormone therapy can help women who are past menopause to keep estrogen [ES-truh-juhn] levels balanced.
  • Getting more physical activity
  • Eating foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D
    • Women need between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium every day. More calcium is needed in young women who are still growing, and also in people who are older than 40.
    • Foods that contain lots of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, and leafy vegetables like broccoli or kale


The best ways to prevent osteoporosis are through:

  • Diet.  Diets high in calcium and Vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis. The body does not make its own calcium. All the calcium you have must come from the foods you eat. Calcium is crucial for health because it also helps with sending messages to your brain and keeping your heart working.
  • Exercise. Exercise can help prevent osteoporosis, especially if you’re older than 40. Before age 40, most bone loss is replaced by your body. After 40, your body does not replace the bone as quickly as it used to. Exercise and a good diet can help keep you healthy.
  • Safety. Falls can fracture weak bones, so you should use everyday safety tips to avoid falls, like walking slowly on ice or always using railings. 


Osteoporosis is a condition where you have weaker or thinner bones that break easily. You may not realize that you have this condition until you break a bone.  When your bones fracture, they might not heal all the way, causing these symptoms:

  • Sloped shoulders
  • Curved back
  • Loss of height
  • Pain in the back
  • A posture that is hunched over