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Literally means "porous bone." This disease is characterized by too little bone formation, excessive bone loss, or a combination of both, leading to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine and wrist.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

About Osteoporosis

Having weak bones that easily break is a sign of osteoporosis. It is normal for your bones to become less dense as you grow older, but osteoporosis speeds up this process. This condition can particularly lead to problems in older age because broken bones do not heal as easily in older people as they do in young people, and the consequences are more serious. In general, osteoporosis is more common in women, and they often develop it at a younger age.

Getting older does not mean that you will automatically develop osteoporosis, but the risk does increase with age. People over the age of 70 are more likely to have low bone density. Plus, the risk of falling increases in old age, which then also makes fractures more likely.

But there are several things you can do to protect and strengthen your bones — even if you are already older.


Osteoporosis often goes undetected at first. Sometimes there are obvious signs that a person has osteoporosis — they may "shrink" a little and develop a stooped posture, for example. But often the first sign that someone has osteoporosis is when they break a bone, sometimes without knowing how or why it happened. This kind of break is called a "spontaneous fracture."

Read more about Osteoporosis

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Denosumab, Raloxifene, and Zoledronic Acid for the Treatment of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis: Clinical Effectiveness and Harms [Internet]

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder characterized by compromised bone strength, predisposing patients to an increased risk of fracture. The postmenopausal form of osteoporosis affects more than 1.5 million Canadians, with prevalence increasing from 6% of women aged 50 to 59 years to more than 40% of women aged 80 years and older. Consequences of sustaining a fracture may be serious and include increased risk of subsequent fractures, hospitalization or institutionalization, decreased quality of life, and premature mortality, with a related burden on the health care system. Antiresorptive agents such as oral bisphosphonates are the standard treatment for postmenopausal osteoporosis, in conjunction with non-pharmacologic measures. Other treatment options include an intravenous bisphosphonate (zoledronic acid), a monoclonal antibody (denosumab), a bone-forming agent (teriparatide), and a selective estrogen receptor modulator (raloxifene). This systematic review was undertaken following a request from provincial drug formularies to evaluate the clinical effectiveness and harms of three of these agents, denosumab, raloxifene, and zoledronic acid, in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. The evidence gathered is expected to clarify uncertainty regarding these agents and to inform policy-making in the population of interest.

[Zoledronic acid in preventing fractures in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis: a meta analysis]

Bibliographic details: Nie H, Peng C, Hao J, Hu ZM, An H.  [Zoledronic acid in preventing fractures in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis: a meta analysis]. Academic Journal of Second Military Medical University 2011; 32(9): 985-990

A systematic review and economic evaluation of alendronate, etidronate, risedronate, raloxifene and teriparatide for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common disease in the elderly, with an estimated 2.1 million female sufferers in England and Wales. It is defined as possessing a T-score of -2.5 standard deviations or lower. The main consequence of osteoporosis is an increased incidence of fractures, notably at the hip, spine, wrist and proximal humerus, which increases as a woman ages. These result not only in morbidity for the patient, with a risk of mortality following fractures of the hip, and possibly of the vertebra, but also in the consumption of scarce health resources. A recent estimate of the cost in the UK of osteoporotic fractures in females has put this figure at £2100 million. A woman who has suffered a fracture is defined as suffering from severe osteoporosis.

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Summaries for consumers

Etidronate for preventing fractures caused by osteoporosis in postmenopausal women

This summary of a Cochrane review presents what we know from research about the effect of etidronate for preventing fractures (broken bones) caused by osteoporosis.

Risedronate for preventing fractures caused by osteoporosis in postmenopausal women

This summary of a Cochrane review, presents what we know from research about the effect of Risedronate for preventing fractures (broken bones) caused by osteoporosis.

Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women

This summary of a Cochrane review presents what we know from research about the effect of exercise on bone mass in postmenopausal women.

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Terms to know

Bone Mineral Density (BMD)
Bone density (or bone mineral density) is a medical term normally referring to the amount of mineral matter per square centimeter of bones. Bone density (or BMD) is used in clinical medicine as an indirect indicator of osteoporosis and fracture risk.
A procedure for vertebral fractures in which a balloon-like device is inserted into the vertebra to help restore the height and shape of the spine and a cement-like substance is injected to repair and stabilize it.
Doctors who diagnose and treat diseases of the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons, including arthritis and collagen diseases.
A procedure used to repair a bone in the spine that has a break caused by cancer, osteoporosis (a decrease in bone mass and density), or trauma. Bone cement is injected into the broken bone to make it stronger.

More about Osteoporosis

Photo of an adult

See Also: Bone Mineral Density

Other terms to know: See all 4
Bone Mineral Density (BMD), Kyphoplasty, Rheumatologist

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