Osteoporosis is a silent disease as it develops. There is no pain, nor are there other symptoms as bone breaks down and becomes more fragile. For most people, a fracture is the first symptom of osteoporosis.
Treatments can help build bone mineral density and prevent fractures.
Types of osteoporosis symptoms
Fractures are the most dangerous consequence of osteoporosis. Hip, spine, and wrist fractures are most common. Some people with osteoporosis experience shoulder, upper arm, forearm, or rib fractures. Osteoporosis raises the risk for all types of fractures. Bones also tend to heal more slowly in those with osteoporosis. Once a person with osteoporosis has experienced one fracture, they have a significantly increased risk of additional fractures.
Osteoporosis itself does not cause pain. However, osteoporotic fractures can cause severe chronic pain. Pain from osteoporosis is most common in the neck or back. Some people with osteoporosis experience sciatica – pain that shoots down the leg – due to a nerve in the back being pinched by the collapse of fractured vertebrae.
Deformity and mobility
In the spine, weakened vertebrae can begin to collapse, leading to loss of height, a stooped posture, and sometimes a rounded hump in the upper back known as kyphosis. Spine and hip fractures can lead to mobility problems that interfere with daily activities, making it harder for someone with osteoporosis to be independent.
Some people with osteoporosis report depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping, which are common in all chronic illnesses.
Osteoporosis can result in losing teeth due to bone loss in the jawbone.
Serious complications of osteoporosis
Hip fractures are a very serious complication of osteoporosis. Hip fractures require surgery and can be life-threatening. When a hip is fractured, blood clots can break off and enter the bloodstream, where they may travel to the arteries of lungs and cause potentially fatal blockages known as pulmonary emboli. After a hip fracture, recovery often requires remaining immobile for weeks or months while you heal. During this time, you will lose more muscle and bone mass due to lack of exercise. Immobility also increases your risk for developing pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Some people never recover full mobility after a hip fracture. The risk of death increases in the year after a hip fracture.
What symptoms lead to a diagnosis of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone, but a fracture after age 50 will cause a doctor to suspect osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is diagnosed based on the results of bone mineral density scans. Read more about how osteoporosis is diagnosed.
Should I be screened for osteoporosis?
According to guidelines set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, all women over 65 should receive a bone mineral density scan to screen for osteoporosis. The frequency of repeat screenings should depend on an individual’s risk factors for osteoporosis. The task force does not recommend preventative screenings for men.
At what age do most people first experience osteoporosis symptoms?
A fracture is often the first symptom of osteoporosis. Most osteoporotic fractures are diagnosed in people over 50, in women after menopause. The risk for fractures increases with age.
What are the early signs of osteoporosis?
Most people are not aware they have osteoporosis until their first fracture occurs. Some people notice they are getting shorter, or that their posture is changing as the spine begins to curve.
Do men and women experience osteoporosis differently?
Although women are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as men, men often have worse outcomes from osteoporotic fractures than women do. For instance, a man’s risk for dying after experiencing a hip fracture is twice that of a woman.