Osteoporosis is a disorder that involves weakening of the bones. It most often develops in people as they age, but it can develop in younger people, too. In someone with osteoporosis, the bones actually develop tiny holes that weaken them. Millions of Americans have osteoporosis, and many more are at risk because they have low bone density.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Age is the biggest risk factor for osteoporosis, with most cases developing after age 50. Women have a greater risk than men because some of the changes women's bodies go through after menopause make osteoporosis more likely. A family history of the condition also enhances risk, as does having a low body weight or having a small or thin build.
Lifestyle factors can play a role in osteoporosis, as well. Smoking, drinking, not exercising and eating an unhealthy diet -- one low in calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals -- can all contribute to a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Symptoms and Complications
Initially, osteoporosis presents no symptoms. But over time, the weakening bones can affect mobility, posture and overall health. People with osteoporosis may begin to lose height, or they can develop a hunched or stooped posture as the spine begins to weaken. Broken bones are a major concern for people with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes a bone far more likely to break, and recovering from a broken bone with osteoporosis is much more difficult than it is for someone who doesn't have the condition.
Prevention and Treatment
Though osteoporosis risk increases with age, there are steps that can be taken to protect the body from osteoporosis. Especially important is eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as ample sources of calcium and vitamin D. Supplements can sometimes help, but it’s best to ask your doctor about this. Regular exercise is also key to keeping the bones healthy and strong. Finally, smoking should be avoided completely, and alcohol intake should be limited.
SOURCE: National Osteoporosis Foundation
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