Osteoporosis literally means porous bones. It is a condition in which bone tissue is reduced. There is also an increased risk of bone fracture for those who have osteoporosis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines osteoporosis as a systemic skeletal disease, characterised by low bone mass and micro-architectural deterioration of bone tissue, with a consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture.
It is a myth that osteoporosis is a normal part of aging and that only women are susceptible. We now know that this disease can also affect young people as well as men.
Osteoporosis is called the “silent disease”, because it progresses undetected for many years and the first sign of this disease is usually a fracture.
Spinal fractures may be painless, but often lead to severe back pain that can last for several weeks. Compression fractures of the spine occur, because the weakened bone collapses under the body's weight. This causes a loss of height and increased curvature of the spine (Dowager's hump).
Most hip fractures are also the result of osteoporosis and can have devastating consequences, which can include institutionalisation, reduced functional capacity and even death.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Image: Osteoporosis from Shutterstock
Reviewed by Dr Gareth Lorge FCP (SA), Specialist Physician in private practice, Netcare Rosebank Hospital, February 2015.
Previously reviewed by Tereza Hough, CEO, National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, 2010.