Signs and Symptoms

Osteoporosis means "porous bones." If you have osteoporosis, your bones don't look any different, but they lose substance as well as calcium and other minerals. As a result, your bones have less strength and are more likely to fracture, particularly if you fall.

The most common osteoporosis fractures resulting from falls are in your wrist or hip. You are much more likely to have compression fractures in your vertebrae, the bones in your spine. A compression fracture is the result of the weakened bone cracking from the normal pressure of being upright. This often results in the curvature of the spine at the shoulders in older people sometimes called a "widow's hump."

The appearance of a widow's hump or a fractured wrist or hip from a fall may be the first actual symptoms of osteoporosis unless your doctor has been measuring your bone density. Men also should watch for a loss of height, change in posture or sudden back pain. There are a number of risk factors that increase a person's likelihood of having osteoporosis.

Risk Factors for Women

  • European or American ethnic background
  • Personal history of fracture as an adult
  • Poor general health
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Low body weight, less than 127 pounds
  • Estrogen deficiency
  • Early menopause, before age 45
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries before age 45
  • Prior to menopause, having a time in your life when you went more than a year without a menstrual period
  • Taking medical therapy that lowers estrogen levels, such as for breast cancer or endometriosis
  • Lifelong low calcium intake
  • Alcoholism
  • Poor vision despite correction, like wearing glasses
  • Falling
  • Inadequate physical activity

Risk Factors for Men

  • Heredity
  • Race -- White men appear to be at the greatest risk for developing osteoporosis, although the condition can affect people of all ethnic groups
  • Undiagnosed low levels of testosterone
  • Falling
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Age -- Bone loss increases with age
  • Chronic disease that alters hormone levels and affects the kidneys, lungs, stomach and intestines
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcoholism
  • Lifelong low calcium intake
  • Low body weight

In addition, having a history of one of the following diseases can increase both a woman and man's risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Hyperparathyroidism, having an overactive parathyroid gland
  • Hyperthyroidism, having an overactive thyroid gland
  • Severe liver disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Pituitary tumor
  • Adrenal disease
  • Malabsorption
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Diabetes

Taking one of the following medications can increase one's risk as well:

  • Seizure medication
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Steroids (prednisone, hydrocortisone, dexamethasone)
  • Heparin
  • Lithium
  • Excess Thyroxine, thyroid replacement

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers


Endocrinology Clinic at Mount Zion
2200 Post St., Suite C-432
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885–7574
Fax: (415) 885–7724
Appointment information

Endocrinology Clinic at Parnassus
400 Parnassus Ave., Suite A-550
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353–2350
Fax: (415) 353–2337
Appointment information

Rheumatology Clinic
400 Parnassus Ave., Floor B1
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2497
Fax: (415) 353-2530
Appointment information

Skeletal Health Service
1500 Owens Street, Suite 430
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2808
Fax: (415) 885-3862
Appointment information