Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’ and is one of the most common bone diseases in the world.
As your body develops, new bone grows as old bone breaks down. However after you’re 40, your bones gradually lose density, as there’s less bone growth and more breaking down of bone. This is when osteoporosis can weaken bones, causing them to break more easily.
Your bones and osteoporosis
To understand how osteoporosis affects your bone, it’s useful to know how your bones are structured.
Your bones have an outside section that’s hard and made of calcium – this protects the spongy honeycomb-like interior of the bone. Osteoporosis affects both parts of the bone, but especially the inside. It causes the holes in the spongy honeycomb to get bigger, so the bone in between gets thinner and is weakened, making the bone more likely to break.
Osteoporosis affects all bones in the body, but common places where bones can break are the spine, hip and wrist.
It can take years for the disease to develop and you might not be aware you have it until you break a bone. There is no real cure for osteoporosis, but if detected early, treatments can be used to slow it down or help stop it developing.
Who can develop osteoporosis?
Like many conditions, osteoporosis is often down to our genes, and you are more likely to develop it if there is a family history of the disease. Women are particularly vulnerable as they usually have smaller bones and less bone mass. It also gets more common as you get older, especially after the age of 60.
Other groups who are at risk include:
- Women who have had an early menopause, or a hysterectomy (with ovary removal) before the age of 45
- Underweight women or those with an eating disorder
- People who smoke heavily or drink heavily
- Those who have been immobile for a long time
- People on certain medications
Related tests and scans
Waiting for blood tests and results can be an anxious time. If you’ve been referred by a GP for a test and don’t want to worry or wait, Nuffield Health can help. Our national network of fully accredited laboratories delivers fast, reliable results at a competitive price – wherever you are in the UK.
Related treatments and procedures
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Osteoporosis is often called the 'silent disease' and usually has no symptoms - that is, until you break or fracture a bone. Bone density scanning can calculate your risk in minutes. Here, we follow patient Sally Wood as she takes the test.