An Overview of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects bone. Your bones become porous and less dense and the overall quality of your bones is also lowered. These changes make it easier for your bones to fracture or break.

normal_bone
Normal bone
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Osteoporotic bone

Osteoporosis is often called “the silent thief.” This is because there are no symptoms associated with bone loss and many patients first come to know they have osteoporosis when they break a bone. In other words, someone can be been losing bone for many years without knowing it! Your bones can become so weak that a small fall or bump or strain can cause your hip or back to fracture. The hip, spine, and wrist are the most common fracture sites in people with osteoporosis.

How does osteoporosis develop?

The skeleton is a dynamic organ. New bone is being built and old bone is being broken down and removed continuously, throughout your life.

During your younger years, from childhood to adolescence, new bone is built faster than old bone is removed. Consequently, bones grow in size, becoming heavier and denser. Bone continues to be built in this manner until about age 30 when you reach peak bone mass, which is the maximum strength and density of your bones. Peak bone mass can differ from person to person depending on how much physical activity you have engaged in, the quality of your diet, and other genetic and environmental factors. After reaching peak bone mass, new bone is built at the same rate at which old bone is removed. But as we get older, the balance gradually shifts and old bone is removed faster than new bone can be built.

Osteoporosis can develop when bone removal outpaces bone formation, or when bone formation occurs slowly and inefficiently. The result is thinner and lighter bones. You are more likely to develop osteoporosis if you do not attain optimal peak bone mass, or if you start losing a greater amount of bone during your 20s and 30s.

Why is osteoporosis more common in women?

Bone loss in women is generally linked to the hormone estrogen. Estrogen has many functions, including helping in building and maintaining bone density.
During the time between achieving peak bone mass and the start of menopause, bone loss and bone formation in most women are about the same. But once a woman passes her reproductive years, the level of estrogen in her body drops significantly, triggering bone loss. The rate of bone loss gradually slows down after the first few years of menopause, but bone continues to be removed even after this time. By the time a woman is 80 years of age, she may have lost up to 30% of her peak bone mass.

Many men are affected by osteoporosis as well. By age 65, the rate of bone loss and the number of osteoporosis-related spine fractures is similar in men and women.

Osteoporosis facts

At least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime.

Fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.

The lifetime risk of suffering from a hip fracture is 1 in 6, while the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 9.

An increased risk of death is associated with vertebral (spine) and hip fractures.

Our health care system spends more than $2 billion per year to treat patients with osteoporosis and osteoporosis-related fractures.

Osteoporosis is a preventable and treatable disease.

*These facts and figures can be found on Osteoporosis Canada’s website http://www.osteoporosis.ca.

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