Osteoporosis begins with tiny fractures in the bones of your spine. Instead of healing, the bones compress and flatten. As the disease progresses, the upper spine is pushed outward and the shoulders round. The rib cage travels downward and settles on top of the hip bones. Organs crowd together, and the abdomen begins to protrude. Your skeleton can become so fragile that just bumping into something or even a cough can damage a bone.
Called "the silent disease," the effects of osteoporosis include not only cosmetic factors but also chronic back and neck pain, difficulty walking and breathing, abdominal problems, and risk of future bone fractures. One in two women and one in five men over age 50 are at risk of bone fracture. A woman's risk of hip fracture, the most debilitating side effect, is actually equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
"I see this every day, and I'm horrified to see how people's lives are affected," says Dr. Felicia Cosman, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and an osteoporosis specialist at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. "It's a very serious disease."
In fact, osteoporosis can kill. Each year, one-and-a-half million fractures occur in the United States as a result of this disease, and an average of 24 percent of hip fracture patients age 50 and over die in the year following their break.
Continued on page 2: Risk Factors