Osteoporosis is a condition that affects bones, causing them to weaken and become brittle; the word means “porous bone”, which is how they appear when viewed microscopically – honeycombed with more spaces than healthy bone.
Like the rest of the human body, the tissue that creates bone is constantly being broken down and reformed; in people with osteoporosis, this process goes astray, with tissue being broken down faster than it is repaired. Bone loss from decreased calcium occurs in all people as they age, usually beginning in the 30’s, although not at the accelerated rates of people with osteoporosis. This process speeds up in women in the first few years after menopause begins, likely because of the decrease in estrogen.
As osteoporotic bones break down, losing calcium and mass, they become lighter and thinner, which makes them more susceptible to fracturing. Aside from the usual causes like falling down, fractures can occur even from the most mild of trauma, such as coughing, sneezing, and even bending over. Fractures from the disease most often occur in the hip, wrist, and spine, although they can occur anywhere in the body. Broken bones are not only painful and inconvenient, taking an especially long time to heal in osteoporosis patients, they can also lead to other complications, either during the surgery to repair it or during recovery.
Aside from breakage, the loss of bone mass has other effects: people with osteoporosis may become hunched or stooped, and they lose height. This occurs when the vertebrae break down or collapse, causing curvature in the spine, which has side effects such as pain and aching along with decreased mobility.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know if you have osteoporosis unless you notice symptoms like a curving spine, or if you break a bone and need treatment for it. If you notice these symptoms, experienced early menopause, or have a family history of osteoporosis, consult a doctor.