Osteoporosis silently weakens your bones, which can make you more likely to experience a bone fracture (broken bone). You can prevent bone density loss with treatments and exercise. Ask your provider about a bone density test if you’re over 65 or have a family history of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens your bones. It makes your bones thinner and less dense than they should be. People with osteoporosis are much more likely to experience broken bones (bone fractures).
Your bones are usually dense and strong enough to support your weight and absorb most kinds of impacts. As you age, your bones naturally lose some of their density and their ability to regrow (remodel) themselves. If you have osteoporosis your bones are much more fragile than they should be, and are much weaker.
Most people don’t know they have osteoporosis until it causes them to break a bone. Osteoporosis can make any of your bones more likely to break, but the most commonly affected bones include your:
The sooner a healthcare provider diagnoses osteoporosis, the less likely you are to experience bone fractures. Ask a healthcare provider about checking your bone density, especially if you’re over 65, have had a bone fracture after age 50, or someone in your biological family has osteoporosis.
More than 50 million people in the U.S. live with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is common in people over 50. Experts estimate that half of all people assigned female at birth and 1 in 4 people assigned male at birth over 50 have osteoporosis.
Studies have found that 1 in 3 adults over 50 who don’t have osteoporosis yet have some degree of reduced bone density (osteopenia). People with osteopenia have early signs of osteoporosis. If it’s not treated, osteopenia can become osteoporosis.
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Osteoporosis doesn’t have symptoms the way lots of other health conditions do. That’s why healthcare providers sometimes call it a silent disease.
You won’t feel or notice anything that signals you might have osteoporosis. You won’t have a headache, fever or stomachache that lets you know something in your body is wrong.
The most common “symptom” is suddenly breaking a bone, especially after a small fall or minor accident that usually wouldn’t hurt you.
Even though osteoporosis doesn’t directly cause symptoms, you might notice a few changes in your body that can mean your bones are losing strength or density. These warning signs of osteoporosis can include:
It might be hard to notice changes in your own physical appearance. A loved one may be more likely to see changes in your body (especially your height or posture). People sometimes joke about older adults “shrinking” as they age, but this can be a sign that you should visit a healthcare provider for a bone density test.
Osteoporosis happens as you get older and your bones lose their ability to regrow and reform themselves.
Your bones are living tissue like any other part of your body. It might not seem like it, but they’re constantly replacing their own cells and tissue throughout your life. Up until about age 30, your body naturally builds more bone than you lose. After age 35, bone breakdown happens faster than your body can replace it, which causes a gradual loss of bone mass.
If you have osteoporosis, you lose bone mass at a greater rate. People in postmenopause lose bone mass even faster.
Anyone can develop osteoporosis. Some groups of people are more likely to experience it, including:
Some health conditions can make you more likely to develop osteoporosis, including:
Some medications or surgical procedures can increase your risk of osteoporosis:
Certain aspects of your diet and exercise routine can make you more likely to develop osteoporosis, including:
A healthcare provider will diagnose osteoporosis with a bone density test. A bone density test is an imaging test that measures the strength of your bones. It uses X-rays to measure how much calcium and other minerals are in your bones.
Healthcare providers sometimes refer to bone density tests as DEXA scans, DXA scans or bone density scans. All of these are different names that refer to the same test.
A bone density test uses low levels of X-rays to measure the density and mineral content of your bones. It’s similar to a typical X-ray. It’s an outpatient procedure, which means you won’t have to stay in the hospital. You can go home as soon as you finish your test. There are no needles or injections in this test.
Checking for changes in your bone density is the best way to catch osteoporosis before it causes a bone fracture. Your provider might suggest you get regular bone density tests if you have a family history of osteoporosis, if you’re over 50, or you have osteopenia.
Your healthcare provider will suggest a combination of treatments that slow down your bone loss and strengthen your existing bone tissue. The most important part of treating osteoporosis is preventing bone fractures.
The most common osteoporosis treatments include:
Exercise and making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet are usually all you’ll need to prevent osteoporosis. Your provider will help you find a combination of treatments that’s best for you and your bone health.
Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:
You should expect to manage osteoporosis for a long time, usually the rest of your life. You’ll need regular appointments with a healthcare provider and bone density tests. Your provider will monitor any changes in your bone density and will adjust your treatments as needed.
Following a diet and exercise plan that’s healthy for you will help you maintain your bone (and overall) health. See a healthcare provider for regular checkups. They’ll also help catch any issues or symptoms that affect your bones as soon as possible.
Talk to your provider about a bone density test if you’re over 65 or have a family history of osteoporosis.
Visit a healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your body that might be osteoporosis warning signs. Tell your provider about any other symptoms you’re experiencing, especially if you have bone pain or trouble moving.
Go to the emergency room if you think you have a broken bone or if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Osteoporosis itself isn’t fatal and won’t change your life expectancy (how long you’ll live). But it can make you more likely to experience a bone fracture (and can increase your risk of more severe breaks or complications from a fracture). Some studies have found that hip fractures in adults older than 65 lead to reduced mobility and an earlier death.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re worried about your risk of falls or bone fractures. They’ll help you stay safe and healthy.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Osteoporosis makes your bones thinner and weaker than they should be. It can be dangerous because it makes you more likely to experience a bone fracture. Lots of people don’t even know they have osteoporosis until it causes a broken bone.
The best way to prevent bone fractures is catching osteoporosis before it can hurt you. Visit a healthcare provider for regular checkups. Ask them when you’ll need bone density tests and how often you should have follow-up tests to monitor your bone health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/20/2023.
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