Osteoporosis means “porous bones.” If you have osteoporosis, your bones don’t look any different, but they lose substance as well as calcium and other minerals. As a result, your bones have less strength and are more likely to fracture, particularly if you fall. The most common osteoporosis fractures resulting from falls are in your wrist or hip.

You also are much more likely to have compression fractures in your vertebrae, the bones in your spine. A compression fracture is the result of the weakened bone cracking from the normal pressure of being upright. This often results in the curvature of the spine at the shoulders in older people sometimes called a “widow’s hump.”

Osteoporosis affects an estimated 10 million people and almost 34 million have low bone mass, putting them at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. The condition is typically considered a woman’s disease, but 2 million of those with the disease are men. In fact, about 30 percent of hip fractures occur in men, and one in eight men over 50 years of age will experience an osteoporotic fracture.

The appearance of the widow’s hump or a fractured wrist or hip from a fall may be the first actual symptoms of osteoporosis unless your doctor has been measuring your bone density. Men also should watch for a loss of height, change in posture or sudden back pain. There are a number of risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of having osteoporosis.

Risk Factors for Women

  • European or American ethnic background
  • Personal history of fracture as an adult
  • Poor general health
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Lifelong low calcium intake
  • Alcoholism
  • Low body weight, less than 127 pounds
  • Estrogen deficiency
  • Early menopause, before age 45
  • Prior to menopause, having a time in your life when you went more than a year without a menstrual period
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries before age 45
  • Taking medical therapy that lowers estrogen levels, such as for breast cancer or endometriosis
  • Poor vision despite correction, like wearing glasses
  • Falling
  • Inadequate physical activity

Risk Factors for Men

  • Heredity
  • Race — White men appear to be at the greatest risk for developing osteoporosis, although the condition can affect people of all ethnic groups
  • Age — Bone loss increases with age
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcoholism
  • Lifelong low calcium intake
  • Undiagnosed low levels of testosterone
  • Falling
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Chronic disease that alters hormone levels and affects the kidneys, lungs, stomach and intestines
  • Low body weight

In addition, having a history of one of the following diseases can increase both a woman and man’s risk of developing osteoporosis:

Taking one of the following medications can increase one’s risk as well:

  • Seizure medication
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Steroids (prednisone, hydrocortisone, dexamethasone)
  • Heparin
  • Lithium
  • Excess Thyroxine, thyroid replacement

There are several medications used to treat osteoporosis, depending on gender. Antiresorptive medications work primarily by reducing bone resorption, while bone anabolic medications build bone rather than inhibit resorption.