Abstinence from Alcohol Rebuilds Bone Strength

Learning about osteoporosis – What is osteoporosis?

What is osteoporosis?

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality article.

Osteoporosis means that bones become less dense (or less solid). When bone density is low, bones become weak and easier to break. Bone density that is low enough for bones to break easily is called osteoporosis.

Who gets osteoporosis?

Half of all women 50 and older will have a broken bone from osteoporosis at some time during their life.

Osteoporosis is more likely for:

  • Women after menopause, mostly because the body has less estrogen.
  • Smaller and thinner women.
  • White or Asian women.
  • Women who have family members who had osteoporosis and broke a bone.
  • Women who smoke tobacco or drink too much alcohol.
  • Women who take certain medicines, like thyroid medicine or steroids.

Both men and women can have osteoporosis, but most of the research is about women.

What causes osteoporosis?

Bone is living tissue. Old and damaged bone is always being broken down and replaced with new bone. As you get older, your body loses minerals, like calcium. Calcium is needed to build new bone. If you have osteoporosis, it means your old bone is not being replaced fast enough by new bone.

Hormones in the body, like estrogen, help prevent bones from breaking down too fast. When you go through menopause, your body makes less estrogen. The loss of hormones is why women are more likely to have osteoporosis after menopause.

Images of Normal Bone with a dense matrix of bone matter, and an image of a bone with osteoporosis, with a very light and scattered matrix of bone matter.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

To find out if you have osteoporosis, your doctor will do a bone density test. Often this is a special x-ray test called a DXA (dex-ah). It measures the thickness of your bones. It can tell if your bones are getting weak. It does not say for sure if your bones will break. Your doctor or nurse can tell you if your bone density is low enough to mean that you have osteoporosis.

Which bones can break?

Osteoporosis can cause any bone to break. The most likely bones to break are the spine, hip, or wrist. Bones can break from a fall or just a hard bump.

Cracks in the bones of the spine can cause these bones to crunch together (compression fracture). This can cause backaches and pain. In fact, loss of an inch or more of height may be the first sign of osteoporosis.

A broken hip almost always needs to be repaired with surgery. Recovery from the operation can take a long time. A broken hip can raise the risk of serious problems, even death.

A broken wrist makes it hard to use the arm and hand. It can also require surgery.