Osteoporosis is a progressive disease of the bones that often appears in women as they age, and leads to decreased bone density, the structure and protein content of bones change, and the bones are more susceptible to being fractured. According to the World Health Organization, bone density that is more than two standard deviations lower than the density of a normal, healthy adult constitutes osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is classified as being one of three forms, which arise at different times in one’s life:
- Primary type 1 osteoporosis is the most common form, and women develop it after menopause.
- Primary type 2 osteoporosis develops after the age of 75, and about two women develop it for every man.
- Secondary osteoporosis can develop at any time, and affects men and women roughly equally. Secondary osteoporosis can arise from a variety of causes, including chronic disease or medical conditions, or taking drugs such as glucocorticoids for extended periods of time.
While osteoporosis itself has no specific symptoms, it does create an increased risk of fractures, especially due to falls. These fractures can occur in situations that would not normally result in broken bones, and can often affect the vertebrae, hip, wrist, or ribs. A stooped appearance can result from multiple fractures of the vertebrae.
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis, which include:
- Advanced age. After menopause, women do not produce as much estrogen, a hormone that is responsible for maintaining body mass.
- Family history. Osteoporosis seems to be at least partially genetic in nature, and since mothers and daughters are often similar in body type, a female relative with osteoporosis can be a risk factor.
- Race/Ethnic background. Asian and white women have 5 to 10% less bone mass than African-American women or women of Mediterranean ancestry.
Body type. Women with a light frame can more easily fracture bones.
- Body weight. Lighter women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis due to having less dense bones to begin with.
- Diseases. Anorexia, celiac disease, kidney or liver problems, chronic diarrhea, or diabetes are all at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Low calcium intake.
- Lack of exercise.
- Previous broken bones.
Some medications used to prevent osteoporosis in women at risk for this disease, including oral bisphosphonate medications such as Fosamax, also known by its generic name of alendronic acid, have been potentially linked to the side effect of femur fractures. In response to claims that this may be a side effect of these medications, the FDA has informed medical professionals that there is an ongoing review to determine whether there is a causal relationship.
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