Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass, which makes the bones become porous and fragile. It occurs most often in weight-bearing bones such as the hips or spine but can affect any bone in the body. The humped back – or dowager's hump – is its most well-known sign. Among Canadians over the age of 50 today, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men have osteoporosis. However, osteoporosis can affect someone at any age.
Osteoporosis is called the silent thief because of the slow, quiet way it creeps up on people. You can't feel the bone loss as it's happening, and often, you're not aware of what's going on until the damage has been done.
Most people know that the highest-risk groups include older women and those who have gone through menopause. But there are others who are at risk as well, including men and women who:
- are older than 65 years
- take corticosteroid therapy continuously for more than 3 months
- have had a fracture with minimal trauma after age 40
- have a family history of osteoporotic fracture (especially a parent who has had a hip fracture)
- are or were malnourished (including people with anorexia or bulimia) or had a very low calcium intake
- use alcohol excessively (consistently more than 2 drinks a day)
- drink too much caffeine (coffee, cola, tea)
- had an early menopause (before age 45)
- have hypogonadism (a condition when the sex gland [gonads in men; ovaries in women] produce little or no hormones)
- have certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, primary hyperparathyroidism, and hyperthyroidism
- have medical conditions that inhibit absorption of nutrients (such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease)
- weigh less than 60 kg or have lost more than 10% of their body weight since age 25
- have undergone treatment for cancer with aromatase inhibitors or androgen deprivation therapy
- have a spinal fracture seen on X-ray or a vertebral compression fracture
The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can have a major negative impact on your quality of life. It can lead to fractures, causing pain and make moving about difficult, which can limit your independence. If you are at risk of osteoporosis, as indicated by the list above, you are also at higher risk of having a fracture. But there are ways to tackle bone loss early on in order to avoid the most damaging effects of osteoporosis. Read "Battling bone loss" to find out more.
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