Osteoporosis: Definition and Clinical Presentation

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Osteoporosis is a skeletal condition characterized by decreased density (mass/volume) of normally mineralized bone. The reduced bone density leads to decreased mechanical strength, thus making the skeleton more likely to fracture. Postmenopausal osteoporosis (Type I) and age-related osteoporosis (Type II) are the most common primary forms of bone loss seen in clinical practice. Secondary causes of osteoporosis include hypercortisolism, hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, alcohol abuse, and immobilization. In the development of osteoporosis, there is often a long latent period before the appearance of the main clinical manifestation, pathologic fractures. The earliest symptom of osteoporosis is often an episode of acute back pain caused by a pathologic vertebral compression fracture, or an episode of groin or thigh pain caused by a pathologic hip fracture. In the diagnostic process, the extent and severity of bone loss are evaluated and secondary forms of bone loss are excluded. A careful diagnostic work-up that includes clinical history, physical examination, laboratory evaluation, bone densitometry, and radiographic imaging will allow the clinician to determine the cause of osteoporosis and to institute medical interventions that will stabilize and even reverse this frequently preventable condition.

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