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Osteoporosis


Overview :

Osteoporosis is a serious public health problem. Some 44 million people in the United States are at risk for this potentially debilitating disease, which is responsible for 1.5 million fractures (broken bones) annually. These fractures, which are often the first sign of the disease, can affect any bone, but the most common locations are the hip, spine, and wrist. Breaks in the hip and spine are of special concern because they almost always require hospitalization and major surgery, and may lead to other serious consequences, including permanent disability and even death.

To understand osteoporosis, it is helpful to understand the basics of bone formation. Bone is living tissue that is constantly being renewed in a two-stage process (resorption and formation) that occurs throughout life. In the resorption stage, old bone is broken down and removed by cells called osteoclasts. In the formation stage, cells called osteoblasts build new bone to replace the old. During childhood and early adulthood, more bone is produced than removed, reaching its maximum mass and strength by the mid-30s. After that, bone is lost at a faster pace than it is formed, so the amount of bone in the skeleton begins to slowly decline. Most cases of osteoporosis occur as an acceleration of this normal aging process, which is referred to as primary osteoporosis. The condition also can be caused by other disease processes or prolonged use of certain medications that result in bone loss. If so, this is called secondary osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis occurs most often in older people and in women after menopause. It affects nearly half of men and women over the age of 75. Women are about five times more likely than men to develop the disease. They have smaller, thinner bones than men to begin with, and they lose bone mass more rapidly after menopause (usually around age 50), when they stop producing a bone-protecting hormone called estrogen. In the five to seven years following menopause, women can lose about 20% of their bone mass. By age 65 or 70, though, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate. As an increasing number of men reach an older age, there is more awareness that osteoporosis is an important health issue for them as well. In fact, a 2003 report noted that one in every eight men over age 50 will suffer a hip fracture as a result of osteoporosis.




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