Osteoporosis is a bone disease. Its name comes from the Latin for “porous bones.” The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, such that the bone loses strength and density. At the same time, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner.
People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of experiencing fractures while engaged in routine activities like standing or walking. About 53 million people either have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing it. The most commonly affected bones are the wrists, hips, spine, and ribs.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
- Poor diet – If your diet doesn’t include enough calcium or vitamin D, or if you’re very underweight, you’ll be at greater risk of osteoporosis.
- Heavy smoking – Tobacco is directly toxic to bones. In women it lowers the oestrogen level and may cause early menopause. In men, smoking lowers testosterone activity and this can also weaken the bones.
- Heavy drinking – Drinking a lot of alcohol reduces the body’s ability to make bone. It also increases the risk of breaking a bone as a result of a fall.
- Family history – Osteoporosis does run in families, probably because there are inherited factors that affect bone development. If a close relative has suffered a fracture linked to osteoporosis then your own risk of a fracture is likely to be greater than normal. We don’t yet know if a particular genetic defect causes osteoporosis, although we do know that people with a very rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta are more likely to suffer fractures.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis often has no symptoms. The first sign that you may have it is when you break a bone in a relatively minor fall or accident (known as a low-impact fracture). Fractures are most likely in the hip, spine or wrist.
Some people have back problems if the bones of the spine (vertebrae) become weak and lose height. These are known as vertebral crush fractures. They usually happen around the mid or lower back and can occur without any injury. If several vertebrae are affected, your spine will start to curve and you may become shorter. Sometimes vertebral crush fractures can make breathing difficult simply because there’s less space under the ribs.
If you have a vertebral crush fracture you’ll also have a greater risk of fracturing your hips or wrists.