Osteoporosis: Five Fast Facts | Knowledge is Power

What Do You Know About Osteoporosis?

This article will discuss 5 reasons for Nurses to have themselves screened for osteoporosis, and to encourage their patients to do the same.


What Do You Know About Osteoporosis?

Do you think Osteoporosis won’t happen to you? Think again. Osteoporosis is a common disease which causes bones to become weak and brittle and can lead to bone fractures. It is often considered a disease of older women, but this is not entirely true.  While postmenopausal women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, it also affects men and younger women.

Despite the devastating effects osteoporosis can have, it is rarely screened for.  As Nurses, we need to be concerned about developing this disease ourselves, and educating our patients about it. This article will discuss 5 reasons for Nurses to have themselves screened for osteoporosis, and to encourage their patients to do the same.

1.  Osteoporosis is Common.  

Osteoporosis is considered a major non-communicable disease worldwide and is much more common than many diseases which receive public attention.

In the United States:

  • The percentage of women 50 years or older with osteoporosis is 18.8 %, and for men 50 years or older, the percentage is 4.2 %. 
  • This means approximately 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 20 men in this age group have osteoporosis.
  • This number represents approximately 10.2 million Americans.

Studies of osteoporosis usually concentrate on older men and women, but it affects adults of all ages.  White and Asian women, especially postmenopausal women, are at the highest risk. There are other factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis

Risk Factors

  • Gender. Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Age. The risk factor for osteoporosis increases with age.
  • Race. Asian and Caucasian people are at greater risk.
  • Family History. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts a person at greater risk, especially if the parent sustained a hip fracture.
  • Body frame size. Women who have a small body frame have less bone mass to draw upon as they age which puts them at risk of developing osteoporosis.

2.  Osteoporosis Has No Symptoms.

Osteoporosis is often referred to as the “Silent Thief” because there are no symptoms in the early stages. Slowly, over a number of years, bone tissue deteriorates.  There is no pain associated with bone loss, and from the outside bones appear a normal size and to have normal strength.  Often the first symptom of osteoporosis is a fractured bone, usually of the spine, wrist, shoulder or hip.

As osteoporosis develops and bones become weaker, some warning symptoms may appear

Later Symptoms of Osteoporosis

  • Loss of height over time
  • A stooped posture
  • Back Pain, caused by a fracture or collapses vertebrae
  • A bone that breaks more easily than expected

3.  Osteoporotic Fractures can have a High Mortality Rate.

Osteoporotic Fractures, especially of the hip, are a major negative life event. They are painful, result in hospitalization, and have a long recovery period. The financial burden of a long hospitalization on the health care system is great.

There is also a huge financial burden on the patient and family, such as the cost of medical care and the loss of income while recovering.  Many people who have had a hip fracture are unable to regain the ability to live independently, which means they must live with family or pay for some form of assisted living accommodation.

As Nurses, we can all recall patients who were fairly well, or barely managing, but still living independently, and who declined rapidly after falling and fracturing a hip.

  • The 1-year mortality rate following a hip fracture is 23.9%. 
  • This means that almost 25% of people who fracture a hip will be dead within a year.

4.  Testing for Osteoporosis is Fairly Simple.

The test for osteoporosis is called a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Test, or sometimes just a Bone Density Test.   Bone density is measured by a machine which uses low-level x-rays to determine the proportion of minerals in bones. The patient lies on a table as the scanner passes over the top of the patient’s body. Usually, bone density is measured in the hip (the neck of the femur) and the lumbar spine.  The test is painless and does not require being admitted to the hospital. It is similar to having an x-ray and takes the same amount of time.

5.  Osteoporosis is Preventable and Treatable.


There are many things an adult can do to maintain healthy bones.

  • Obtain enough calcium and protein in your diet.
  • Absorb enough vitamin D from the sun, or boost it through fortified foods and supplements.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight, as being too thin is damaging to bone health.
  • Exercise regularly. Activity will build bone mass as well as improve balance and muscle strength, which in turn, helps prevent falls.
  • Avoid smoking and heavy consumption of alcohol.
  • Be cautious about preventing falls.


Treatment for osteoporosis of takes a multi-faceted approach by prescribing medications, and encouraging the patient to modify risk factors that can be controlled, such as diet, exercise, and fall prevention,


  • Biphosphonates, such as Alendronate or Risedronate. Usually, these drugs are prescribed orally and taken once weekly.
  • Denosumab, such as Prolia. This drug is administered subcutaneously every 6 months.


In conclusion, osteoporosis is a common disease, which does not garner much attention, nor is it normally screened for. It develops silently over many years, and does not have symptoms until later.  Later symptoms, such as loss of height, and vertebral fractures indicate bone mass has already decreased. If detected early, further bone mass loss may be prevented by modifying diet and exercise and taking measures to reduce fall risk.  Medications, such as the bisphosphonates and Denosumab may also prevent further bone loss. Are you at risk?


CDC Osteoporosis

Mayo Clinic - Osteoporosis

International Osteoporosis Foundation - Take Action for Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment
International Osteoporosis Foundation

What is Osteoporosis? The "Silent Thief"

Catherine is a Registered Nurse with an interest in Women's Health and Aging.

1 Article   8 Posts

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7,735 Posts

Specializes in retired LTC.

TY for the article. Interesting and easy to read. 

Catherine Johnston, BSN, RN

1 Article; 8 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Veterans, Women and Aging. Has 39 years experience.

Thanks so much amolucia!

Lisa Landis, RN

2 Articles; 3 Posts

Specializes in Cardiac Nurse and Healthcare Content Writer. Has 8 years experience.

Loved this article. Very informative and well written. 


7,735 Posts

Specializes in retired LTC.

I prob fit in this population above & beyond your S&S. Late 1990s, I had 2 spontaneous rib fx of unknown origin (one refractured). Different sites. 

I know I'm at risk

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,979 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

I recently broke my ankle in a ground-level fall. Broke the the other one 2 years ago in a near-fall. I’m only 63, but I think I’d better get a bone density test!

Catherine Johnston, BSN, RN

1 Article; 8 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Veterans, Women and Aging. Has 39 years experience.

I don’t seem to be able to reply to individual comments, so I am going to make a general comment. I have been living with osteoporosis since I was 40. At least that was when it was diagnosed, and only because I asked for a BMD test.  As women we really have to be our own advocates.  Men too.  I would encourage all who have Indicated some concern that you are at risk to be tested. It is easier to preserve bone mass than to build it when you are older. 

NutmeggeRN, BSN

8 Articles; 4,571 Posts

Specializes in kids. Has 40 years experience.

I took a hard fall this past Summer and fractured my upper humerus...ugh what an ordeal. 60, female, overweight and family HX+. I just had a dexascan (osteopenia) and meeting with my PCP to figure out medication options. Erggh...not fun. Thanks for the article!

Catherine Johnston, BSN, RN

1 Article; 8 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Veterans, Women and Aging. Has 39 years experience.

Hi NutmeggRN. I’m glad you are going to get some treatment.