Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease in which the bone becomes porous and brittle as the tissue slows its self-repairing process; this breakdown causes the bone to become porous and brittle, making it more delicate and prone to fracturing. Although it can affect any of the bones, one of the most common places osteoporosis develops is the hip.
When people think of osteoporosis, they often think of a very elderly person with a curved spine. However, the condition can strike at any age; in fact, the reversal of the process in which bone rebuilds and repairs its broken-down tissue, which is what causes the loss of bone density, begins in most people between age 30 and 35. This is a natural part of the aging process, and for some it may never become a serious issue, but in others, the tissue breaks down quickly or more severely, causing complications of osteoporosis. The hips are often injured in a fall, which can happen at any age, although it becomes increasingly likely at a higher age.
The condition affects both men and women alike, although women tend to be more susceptible following menopause, when the levels of estrogen in their bodies plummet, accelerating the loss of bone density (women who reach menopause before age 45 are at especially high risk). Men with lower testosterone levels can also be at a higher risk.
Advanced age is not the only risk factor for developing osteoporosis. Some cannot be avoided: women with smaller frames are at a higher risk, as are Caucasian and Asians, while Black and Hispanic people have a lower risk. Family history plays an important role as well – if you know of others in your family who have suffered from the condition, early testing is important. Lifestyle habits that put you at risk include smoking, excessive drinking, and lack of exercise, all of which weaken bones. Certain medications can also increase your risk, and nutrition is key: a healthy diet contributes to bone health, and people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia are at a much higher risk.
Aging puts everyone at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, but building good bone strength during youth and adolescence, and maintaining it throughout adulthood, can help prevent it. Getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D, especially during the formative years, is essential for bone health; sufficient and regular exercise also go a long way towards strengthening bones. Osteoporosis is called “the silent killer” because many times, its symptoms don’t appear until a break occurs, so see a doctor for testing and early warning signs, especially if you have a family history.