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Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which the bones become weak and brittle. More specifically, there is a higher breakdown of bone in comparison to the formation of new bone, which results in porous bones. This means that there is a decrease in bone density, so much so that a fracture may occur. Scientifically speaking, there’s thinning of the cortical bone, widening of the Haversian canals, and a decrease in the number of trabeculae in the spongy bone. In other words, osteoporosis occurs when the body loses too much bone, when the body makes too little bone, or a combination of these two factors. As a result, bones may break from a fall, or in more severe cases, from sneezing or minor bumps.

Osteoporosis is a relatively common disease, one which affects about 54 million Americans above the age of 50. In terms of gender, approximately 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. There are two main reasons for why women are more likely than men to develop this bone disease. First of all, the process of bone loss speeds up in the years immediately following menopause, which is when the ovaries stop producing the female sex hormone known as oestrogen. Secondly, men usually reach a higher level of bone density before the bone loss process begins, so the bone loss has to be much more severe in men for osteoporosis to occur.

Common risk factors of osteoporosis include being of older age, going through menopause or having ovaries removed before the age of 45, taking certain medications that decrease hormone levels, smoking cigarettes, having low testosterone in men or low estrogen in women, drinking alcohol frequently, not getting enough regular physical activity, and having an immediate family member with osteoporosis. In addition, certain medical conditions can also increase an individual’s risk of osteoporosis. These conditions include kidney failure, malabsorption, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because symptoms typically occur only after a bone has broken. That said, warning signs of the disease include receding gums, weaker grip strength, weak or brittle fingernails, and having either osteopenia or a family history of osteoporosis. The most common types of osteoporosis are senile osteoporosis and postmenopausal osteoporosis, though young women may receive a diagnosis of premenopausal osteoporosis, and children may experience idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis or secondary juvenile osteoporosis. Idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis is a rare condition in which there is no known cause of the disease, while secondary juvenile osteoporosis is far more common and develops as a result of another known condition.

There are a number of ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat osteoporosis. Prevention includes eating a well balanced diet with enough calcium and vitamin D, engaging in regular exercise, and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol. Diagnosis includes a bone density test, a physical exam, and a review of the patient’s medical history. Treatment includes lifestyle changes, medications, and natural supplements. Bisphosphonates are the most common drugs used to treat osteoporosis and prevent the loss of bone mass, while red clover and black cohosh are supplements used to help promote bone health. In general, the outlook for people with osteoporosis is good, especially when the disease is detected and treated early.