Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, as well as another 18 million who have low bone mass, or osteopenia, which may eventually lead to osteoporosis if not treated.
Researchers estimate that about 1 out of 5 American women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis. About half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bones of the spine).
Osteoporosis occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone, when too much old bone is reabsorbed by the body, or both.
Calcium and phosphate are two minerals that are essential for normal bone formation. Throughout youth, your body uses these minerals to produce bones. If you do not get enough calcium, or if your body does not absorb enough calcium from the diet, bone production and bone tissues may suffer.
As you age, calcium and phosphate may be reabsorbed back into the body from the bones, which makes the bone tissue weaker. This can result in brittle, fragile bones that are more prone to fractures, even without injury.
Usually, the loss occurs gradually over years. Many times, a person will have a fracture before becoming aware that the disease is present. By the time this occurs, the disease is in its advanced stages and damage is severe.
The leading causes of osteoporosis are a drop in estrogen in women at the time of menopause and a drop in testosterone in men. Women, especially those over age 50, get osteoporosis more often than men.
Other causes include:
- Being confined to a bed
- Cushing syndrome
- Excess corticosteroid levels due to ongoing use of medicines for asthma, certain forms of arthritis or skin diseases, and COPD.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions