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Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones", causes bones to become weak and brittle – so brittle that even mild stresses like bending over, lifting a vacuum cleaner or coughing can cause a fracture. In most cases, bones weaken when you have low levels of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in your bones.
A common result of osteoporosis is fractures – most of them in the spine, hip or wrist. Although it's often thought of as a women's disease, osteoporosis also affects many men. And aside from people who have osteoporosis, many more have low bone density.
It's never too late – or too early – to do something about osteoporosis. You can take steps to keep bones strong and healthy throughout life.
The osteoporosis can be present for decades without any symptoms, because osteoporosis doesn't cause symptoms unless the bone fractures. Some osteoporosis fractures may escape detection until years later. Therefore, sufferers may not be aware of their osteoporosis until they have a painful fracture. Only then will the symptoms be felt at the location of the fracture.
Fractures of the spine (vertebra) can cause severe "band-like" pain that radiates around from the back to the side of the body. Over the years, repeated spine fractures can cause chronic lower back pain as well as loss of height or curving of the spine, which gives the individual a hunched-back appearance of the upper back, often called a "dowager hump".
A fracture that occurs during the course of normal activity is called a minimal trauma fracture or stress fracture. For example, some patients with osteoporosis develop stress fractures of the feet while walking or stepping off a curb.
Hip fractures typically occur as a result of a fall. With osteoporosis, hip fractures can occur as a result of trivial accidents. Hip fractures may also be difficult to heal after surgical repair because of poor bone quality.
What factors determine bone strength?
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis
Factors that will increase the risk of developing osteoporosis are:
Certain risk factors which predispose to the developing of osteoporosis cannot be altered – you cannot change your gender, race or age. You can however do much to prevent further bone loss. There are four main areas in which you can help maintain healthy bones: