Updated 03 August 2018

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disease, characterised by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue. It is more common in older women, however men can develop it too.


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.

Read more:
Treating osteoporosis
Preventing osteoporosis
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.  


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Healthy Bones

Tereza is the CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and worked as a Nursing Sister in the field of Osteoporosis for 18 years prior to her appointment with the Foundation. She used to be the Educational Officer for the Foundation and co-wrote the patient brochure on Osteoporosis. Read more

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules