Osteoporosis | Overview

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What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis (say: “ost-tee-oh-pore-oh-siss”) occurs when the inside of the bones become porous from a loss of calcium (see the picture below). This is called losing bone mass. Over time, this weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break.

Once total bone mass has peaked — around 35 years of age — all adults start to lose it. However, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. This is due to several factors. Women have less bone mass than men, tend to live longer and take in less calcium. In women, the rate of bone loss speeds up after menopause, when estrogen levels fall. Since the ovaries make estrogen, faster bone loss may also occur if both ovaries are removed by surgery.

If men live long enough, they are also at risk of getting osteoporosis later in life.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/11
Created: 01/96

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