What is Osteoporosis?
Normal bone / Osteoporotic bone
Osteoporosis can result in gradual loss of height and curvature of the spine (kyphosis).
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced, leading to weakness of the skeleton and increased risk of fracture, particularly of the spine, wrist, hip, pelvis and upper arm. Osteoporosis and associated fractures are an important cause of mortality and morbidity.
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In many affected people, bone loss is gradual and without warning signs until the disease is advanced. Osteoporosis is also known as "the silent crippler" because a person usually doesn't know they have it until it's too late. Unfortunately, in many cases, the first real "symptom" is a broken bone. Loss of height with gradual curvature of the back (caused by vertebral compression fractures) may be the only physical sign of osteoporosis.
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Osteoporosis: not just an "old woman's" disease
Osteoporosis is a global problem which is increasing in significance as the population of the world both grows and ages. For these reasons, osteoporosis is often referred to as the "silent epidemic".
There are many misconceptions about osteoporosis, for example that it is "an old woman's disease". In fact, bone loss in women can begin as early as age 25. Worldwide, the lifetime risk for a woman to have an osteoporotic fracture is 30-40%. Furthermore, new studies have shown the prevalence of osteoporosis in men is higher than previously thought with approximately one in five men affected.
See the fact sheet about the impact of osteoporosis
A serious public health problem
Osteoporosis is a widespread public health problem. The costs to national healthcare systems from osteoporosis-related hospitalization are staggering.
Even so, osteoporosis was not precisely defined as a disease until 1994. The World Health Organization (WHO) has since identified osteoporosis as a priority health issue along with other major non-communicable diseases.
Rapid progress is being made in the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. Early detection of bone loss is key to the prevention of suffering and escalation of health care costs. Bone mineral density (BMD) measurements are effective in assessing fracture risk, confirming a diagnosis of osteoporosis and monitoring the effect of treatment. A major concern is that access to measuring equipment and qualified technical personnel and reimbursement by medical insurance schemes remain inadequate in a great many countries.