Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” If you look at healthy bone under a microscope, you will see that parts of it look like a honeycomb. If you have osteoporosis, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much bigger than they are in healthy bone. This means your bones have lost density or mass. It also means that the structure of your bone tissues has become abnormal. As your bones become less dense, they become weaker.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
- Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80 percent are women.
- Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
- A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
There are multiple reasons why women are more likely to get osteoporosis then men. Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men. In addition, estrogen is a hormone in women that protects bones. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases around the time of menopause, when estrogen levels drop sharply. In fact, in the five-to-seven years following menopause, a woman can lose up to 20 percent of her bone density.
For some people affected by the disease, simple activities such as lifting a child, bending down to pick up a newspaper, bumping into furniture or even sneezing can cause a bone to break. A person with osteoporosis is most likely to break a bone in the hip, spine or wrist. However, other bones may also be affected by the disease.
If you’re age 50 or older and have broken a bone, you should talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test. This is the case, even if you break a bone after a serious accident. Broken bones are often related to osteoporosis, except for breaks in the fingers, toes, face and skull.
How can you prevent osteoporosis? Getting enough calcium, vitamin D and regular exercise are important for your bones. Eating fruits and vegetables is also good for bone health. On the other hand, eating poorly, smoking, drinking too much alcohol or not exercising can cause bone loss and osteoporosis.