Osteoporosis (meaning ‘porous bones’) is a condition that occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them. This decrease in bone mineral density (BMD) weakens bones, making them brittle and more easily broken than bones of normal density. Bones can become so fragile that even a minor bump or accident can cause a fracture (a complete or partial break in a bone).
Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine. However, they can also occur in other bones, such as in the arm or pelvis. Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a rib fracture or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine. Some older people develop a stooped posture. This happens when the bones in the spine have fractured, making it difficult to support the weight of the body resulting in an abnormal rounding of the spine (kyphosis). Fractures due to osteoporosis can result in chronic pain, disability, loss of independence and even premature death.
Osteoporosis develops slowly over several years. There are usually no signs or symptoms and most people don’t realise they have osteoporosis until it is diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture. This is why it is often called the ‘silent disease’.