Osteoporosis: Overview

Osteoporosis is a relatively common disease. More than 40 million Americans either have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass, according to the National Institutes of Health. About half of all women older than 50 will break a bone in their life due to osteoporosis, and up to one in four men will, too.

Although most of us give little thought to our bones on a regular basis, it is important to know that this part of your body is composed of living, growing tissue. Throughout your life you are "losing" old bone, while at the same time, your body is "making" new bone.

Bone loss
Through a process called bone resorption, special bone cells (called osteoclasts) break down and remove old bone.

Building bone
Bone formation happens when special cells (called osteoblasts) replace old bone that is removed.

When you are young, new bone is added faster than old bone is removed. Osteoporosis happens when you either lose too much old bone, form too little new bone—or possibly a combination of both. Bone weakness can commonly lead to fractures or breaks in your spine, hip, or wrist that result from simple falls or even a sneeze or cough.

Although it's true you can build the most new bone when you are young, it's never too late to take steps to help make your bones stronger.