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How does osteoporosis affect bones?

You may have osteoporosis, but do you really understand what it is doing to your bones?

There has been no single cause identified for osteoporosis. There are a number of factors that can contribute to this condition. These factors commonly referred to as risk factors seem to play a role in the development of the disease.

In women, bone loss can occur quite rapidly in the first 5 to 10 years following menopause due to the decline in estrogen. Two risk factors for fracture include declining bone mass as well as increasing age.

Bone is constantly changing. There are special cells in the body called osteoclasts whose primary function is to remove bone. There is another type of cell called osteoblasts. These are bone-forming cells. In normal bone, there is a balance between the actions of these two cells. In osteoporotic bone, osteoclasts remove bone faster than the osteoblasts can form new bone. The result is a net bone loss.

Osteoporosis causes permanent changes in the bone as these two images show. There are two types of bone. Cortical bone is the hard, outer layer of the bone and trabecular bone is the sponge-like internal structure of the bone. As you can see in these two images, osteoporosis can lead to thinning of both cortical and trabecular bone which makes bones more susceptible to breaks. If you think you may be at risk of osteoporosis, fill out this risk assessment and talk to your doctor.