Medical information for patients


Osteoporosis is a disorder where the bones become weakened by loss of substance (osteopenia), leading to an increased risk of broken bones (fractures) with minimal trauma.


The thinning of the bones does not, in itself, cause much in the way of symptoms. It does, however, lead to a risk of broken bones without much of an injury. In fact the bones of the spine can sometimes collapse without any obvious cause.

When the bones are significantly thinned (low in bone mass) people who fall are more likely to break their wrist, hip, or other bones. A cough or a sneeze is more likely to cause a fracture of a rib or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine (vertebra). Any bone is more at risk with osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis affects people in a number of ways:


Bone is constantly being replaced. Old bone is reabsorbed and new bone laid down all the time. This results in about 10% of the bone in your body being replaced every year. When more bone is reabsorbed than is laid down, this results in thinning of the bones (loss of bone mass).

The substance of the bones (bone mass) builds up to a peak at about 30 years of age. After that we lose bone mass by about 1% each year.

When the menstrual periods stop in women (the menopause) there is a phase, for a few years, when women lose bone mass at a faster rate.

There are a number of types of primary osteoporosis:

There is also secondary osteoporosis, which is connected with the following factors:

Risk factors

Osteoporosis can occur in anybody, but certain factors add together to increase the risk of a person developing osteoporosis.

If you fall into one or more of these groups you may be at greater risk of osteoporosis:


If you already have a fracture or bone collapse, then this will point towards the possibility of osteoporosis. Other factors that may alert the doctor to the possibility include:

Tests are likely to include Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA scan). Your doctor may want to follow up any possible causes for the osteoporosis, if the bone density does turn out to be lower than would normally be expected for your age and sex.


There are a number of treatments available:

Your doctor may send you to a specialist. You are likely to have follow-up tests of bone density, to monitor progress while on treatment.


Further information

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