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Osteoporosis: Key Q&A

Reviewed By: Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disorder that causes bones to become porous, weak and brittle. It usually affects older adults and occurs when low levels of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals cause bones to lose mass, making them susceptible to fractures. Most fractures occur in the spine, hip or wrist.

What is the difference between osteoporosis and osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis and may be diagnosed when bone density is below normal but not low enough for a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose mass and density, which is partly a result of a decrease in minerals. When this occurs, bone strength decreases and the bone's internal supporting structure declines.

Loss of bone mass occurs naturally with age to some extent because the body starts to lose more bone than it makes. However, many factors can accelerate the process. These include declining levels of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, a diet poor in calcium and vitamin D, a history of physical inactivity, alcoholism, smoking, and long-time use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs. People may also be at risk if they have certain medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid glands), eating disorders, diabetes, polycystic ovarian disease, cancer, cardiovascular conditions, cystic fibrosis, digestive or kidney diseases, lung disease or certain bone disorders.

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