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What Is Osteoporosis?

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Bones continually renew themselves. Old bone is broken down and replaced with new bone. Osteoporosis occurs when new bone production cannot keep up with old bone loss, causing bones to become porous and brittle.

The inside of a healthy bone resembles the structure of a honeycomb. The inside of a bone affected by osteoporosis is different: the spaces inside the bone become larger, which weakens the bone. The outside of the bone also thins, which increases the risk of fractures and breaks. An activity as simple as walking can cause a bone fracture or break. In severe cases of osteoporosis, bones may become so brittle that a fracture can occur simply from coughing or bending the body. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, wrists and spine.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of osteoporosis include, but are not limited to, decrease in height, stooped posture, back pain, neck pain or vertebrae compression fractures. Osteoporosis doesn’t typically produce symptoms in the early stages; however, if they do occur, they include receding gums, a weakened grip or brittle nails.

What are the risk factors?

Osteoporosis is most common in older adults. Although osteoporosis affects both men and women of all races, post-menopausal Caucasian and Asian women are most at risk of developing the condition.

Multiple risk factors can contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Risk factors arising from lifestyle choices can usually be controlled; whereas, others risk factors are inherent and cannot be controlled. Lifestyle choices that increase the risk of osteoporosis include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, low degree of physical activity and poor nutrition. Inherent risks include age, race, family history and certain medical conditions.

Individuals with small body frames are also at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. An imbalance of certain hormones (sex hormones, thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands), certain medications (such as corticosteroids), eating disorders, gastrointestinal surgeries, early menopause, and low body weight are also risk factors. Those at risk of developing osteoporosis should speak with their physician about proactive steps they can take to delay the onset or even prevent the development of the condition.

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