ExitCare ImageThroughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone. As you get older, your body does not replace bone as quickly as it breaks it down. By the age of 30 years, most people begin to gradually lose bone because of the imbalance between bone loss and replacement. Some people lose more bone than others. Bone loss beyond a specified normal degree is considered osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis affects the strength and durability of your bones. The inside of the ends of your bones and your flat bones, like the bones of your pelvis, look like honeycomb, filled with tiny open spaces. As bone loss occurs, your bones become less dense. This means that the open spaces inside your bones become bigger and the walls between these spaces become thinner. This makes your bones weaker. Bones of a person with osteoporosis can become so weak that they can break (fracture) during minor accidents, such as a simple fall.


The following factors have been associated with the development of osteoporosis:

  • Smoking.

  • Drinking more than 2 alcoholic drinks several days per week.

  • Long-term use of certain medicines:

  • Corticosteroids.

  • Chemotherapy medicines.

  • Thyroid medicines.

  • Antiepileptic medicines.

  • Gonadal hormone suppression medicine.

  • Immunosuppression medicine.

  • Being underweight.

  • Lack of physical activity.

  • Lack of exposure to the sun. This can lead to vitamin D deficiency.

  • Certain medical conditions:

  • Certain inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis.

  • Diabetes.

  • Hyperthyroidism.

  • Hyperparathyroidism.


Anyone can develop osteoporosis. However, the following factors can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Gender—Women are at higher risk than men.

  • Age—Being older than 50 years increases your risk.

  • Ethnicity—White and Asian people have an increased risk.

  • Weight —Being extremely underweight can increase your risk of osteoporosis.

  • Family history of osteoporosis—Having a family member who has developed osteoporosis can increase your risk.


Usually, people with osteoporosis have no symptoms.


Signs during a physical exam that may prompt your caregiver to suspect osteoporosis include:

  • Decreased height. This is usually caused by the compression of the bones that form your spine (vertebrae) because they have weakened and become fractured.

  • A curving or rounding of the upper back (kyphosis).

To confirm signs of osteoporosis, your caregiver may request a procedure that uses 2 low-dose X-ray beams with different levels of energy to measure your bone mineral density (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry [DXA]). Also, your caregiver may check your level of vitamin D.


The goal of osteoporosis treatment is to strengthen bones in order to decrease the risk of bone fractures. There are different types of medicines available to help achieve this goal. Some of these medicines work by slowing the processes of bone loss. Some medicines work by increasing bone density. Treatment also involves making sure that your levels of calcium and vitamin D are adequate.


There are things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis. Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can help you achieve optimal bone mineral density. Regular exercise can also help, especially resistance and weight-bearing activities. If you smoke, quitting smoking is an important part of osteoporosis prevention.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.


www.osteo.org and www.nof.org