What is osteoporosis?
Years ago, doctors had no way of diagnosing early signs of osteoporosis. By the time osteoporosis was apparent on a regular X-ray or a fracture had occurred, significant bone loss had already affected the individual. Nor did doctors have effective drugs to treat or prevent osteoporosis.
Exactly what is osteoporosis?
The standard World Health Organization (WHO) defines osteoporosis as, "a skeletal disorder characterized by compromised bone strength predisposing a person to an increased risk of fracture."
Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease and it's quite often misunderstood. Most people think of osteoporosis only in terms of bone fractures and loss of height, but it's more complicated than this.
The word "osteoporosis" actually means porous bones. If something is porous, it has holes in it. In osteoporosis, the normal bone cavities enlarge.
When the holes become larger, the bone becomes more susceptible to breaking.
Minimal trauma can cause a fracture when you have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a systemic disorder that affects the entire skeleton.
Bone Remodeling and Osteoporosis
Bone is in a constant state of remodeling. Bone remodeling is when old bone is broken down and replaced by new bone. Osteoporosis can occur when you lose more bone than you rebuild, or when more bone than normal is broken down.
On average, in women over 40, bone mass decreases between 1 and 5 percent per year. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis because they generally have less bone mass to start with than men. The sudden estrogen deficiency or loss of estrogen in menopause also contributes to women's increased risk of osteoporosis.
Todays Definition of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis used to be defined as a disease where bones fracture as a result of little impact because they have become thin, brittle, and have lost tensile strength.
Today, a new definition of osteoporosis has been accepted by the medical community.
Osteoporosis is defined as a condition characterized by low bone density or reduced bone quantity. This definition says nothing about bone quality. That is, the new definition says very little about the tendency to fracture or the strength or brittleness of the bone.
Everybody loses bone density as they age, but the vast majority never fracture as a result of low bone density. Osteoporosis is uncommon and even rare in women under the age of 80. After 80, fractures are likely to occur due to issues with illness and frailty. The older and more unwell a person is, the greater the risk for fracture. Simply maintaining a good level of health and fitness will help a well woman in her 50s and 60s to avert such an event.
Osteoporosis, a Disease or a Condition?
Osteoporosis is thought of as a disease when most of the time what the person is really is experiencing is a condition. Also, people are diagnosed with osteoporosis because they have low bone density, not because they have fractured.
Low BMD (bone mineral density) is but one of many risk factors for a disease that can only be truly diagnosed when there is a fragility fracture. Calling low BMD osteoporosis is like calling high blood pressure a stroke.
When discussing, "what is osteoporosis", it's important to mention other factors that lead to frailty, such as immobility and malnutrition that can further contribute to thinning of bone. Other factors such as dementia and medications like sleeping pills can predispose someone to falling. Under these conditions, almost any elderly person may fall and fracture his or her hip.
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