Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that makes them weak and prone to fracture. Osteoporosis is considered a silent disease, because bone loss itself is gradual and painless. There are usually no symptoms to indicate that a person is developing osteoporosis early in the condition. Bone is living tissue that is in a constant state of formation and resorption. Bone resorption is the gradual loss of bone. As individuals age, formation lessens and after a peak bone mass is achieved, bone mass remains stable (resorption and formation are equal). Osteoclasts are the principal cells responsible for bone resorption.
By their mid-30s, most individuals begin to gradually lose bone strength as the balance between bone resorption and bone formation shifts, so that more bone is lost than can be replaced. As a result, bones become less dense and structurally weaker, called osteopenia. Osteopenia refers to mild bone loss that is not severe enough to be called osteoporosis, but that increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. As this occurs, bones lose calcium, phosphorus, boron, and other minerals and become lighter, less dense, and more porous. This makes the bones weaker and increases the chance that they might break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteopenia can progress painlessly into osteoporosis until a bone breaks or fractures.
Although any bone is susceptible to fracture, the most common fractures in osteoporosis occur at the spine, wrist, and hip. Spine and hip fractures in particular may lead to chronic pain, long-term disability, and even death.
Osteoporosis is more common in older individuals and non-Hispanic white women, but can occur at any age, in men as well as in women, and in all ethnic groups.
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