Osteoporosis: Glossary of Terms

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This glossary includes common terms associated with osteoporosis, its diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Approximately 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis;1 a metabolic bone disease that causes you to lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both. As your bones lose density, they become weaker and more likely to break. Osteoporosis can increase your risk for spinal fracture. If you are 50 and older and have broken a bone, you should talk to your doctor.
Osteoporosis InfographicOsteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease that causes you to lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both. Photo Source: 123RF.com.
A member of the bisphosphonate class of drugs, alendronate treats osteoporosis by increasing bone mass. A common brand name is Fosamax.

A class of drugs prescribed to increase bone mineral density and reduce the risk of fracture. Alendronate (Fosamax) and ibandronate (Boniva) are examples of bisphosphonates.

Organs composed of hard living tissue providing structural support to the body and made mostly of collagen and calcium.

Bone Density
The amount of calcium and minerals in the bone tissue. Higher bone density indicates stronger bones; lower bone density indicates weaker bones.

Bone Mass
The total amount of bone tissue in the skeleton.

Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Test
Also called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA), a bone mineral density (BMD) test is used to diagnose osteoporosis. BMD testing detects bone loss even in its early stages. The test can also determine if a person is at risk for fractures and monitor increases in bone density as a result of treatment.

A naturally occurring hormone secreted by the thyroid gland known to increase bone density. It can also help relieve pain associated with fractures. It is available in 2 forms: injection or nasal spray.

A mineral found in many foods. Calcium is used by the body to help strengthen bones and teeth.

Cancellous Bone
Also called trabecular bone, cancellous bone is an inner spongy structure that resembles a honeycomb. The inner bone cavities contain bone marrow where red blood cells are produced.

Stretchy tissue that, as the body grows, develops into bone. Remaining cartilage helps keep bones flexible. It is also available in supplement form.

Cortical Bone
The outer layer of bone. Cortical bone, also known as compact cortical bone, is the hard, dense outer covering of bone.

Given as an injection, this drug slows bone loss and strengthens bones to treat osteoporosis. A common brand name is Xgeva.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA)
A test used to diagnose osteoporosis. Also known as bone mineral density test.

A broken bone. In the spinal column, osteoporosis is a risk factor for vertebral compression fracture.

A fracture risk assessment tool that calculates your absolute fracture risk or estimates of the chance of breaking a bone within the next 10 years.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Also called estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), this treatment is often prescribed to women to replenish estrogen levels lost during menopause. Increased estrogen levels slow down the rate of bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. However, experts do not know all the long-term risks of this therapy.

A member of the bisphosphonate class of drugs, ibandronate prevents and treats osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. A common brand name is Boniva.

Kummel Disease
A type of avascular necrosis (loss of blood to the bone) that occurs after a vertebral compression fracture fails to heal properly. Though Kummel disease is rare, people with osteoporosis are at a heightened risk for developing it because they’re susceptible to vertebral compression fractures.

Kyphotic Curve
Commonly called "humpback,” a kyphotic curve is a telltale sign of advanced osteoporosis and the result of the collapse of vertebrae in the thoracic spine. A severe kyphotic curve can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness.

A treatment for compression fractures that involves the use of a "balloon," which is placed into a collapsed vertebra. The balloon is inflated, removed, and the resulting cavity is filled with an orthopaedic cement that hardens. This helps return the vertebral body to its original height.

When a woman’s ovarian reproductive function ends, causing a sharp decline is estrogen. Estrogen protects bones, so low estrogen levels put you at risk for developing osteoporosis.

The process of cartilage changing into hard bone.

A type of cell that forms new bone.

A type of cell that breaks down bone.

A cell within regions of adult bone involved in the maintenance of bone.
The bone remodelling processOsteocyte: A cell within regions of adult bone involved in the maintenance of bone. Photo Source: 123RF.com.Osteomalacia
Also known as "adult rickets,” osteomalacia occurs when bones become soft as a result of a vitamin D deficiency.

A condition in which there is a decrease in bone density but not necessarily an increase in the risk or incidence of fracture. Osteopenia is considered a serious risk factor for osteoporosis.

A condition in which you lose too much bone, don’t create enough new bone, or both. This causes a decrease in bone mass and bone density, and an increased risk and/or incidence of fracture.

Peak Bone Mass
The maximum amount of bone you can achieve during skeletal growth.

A fibrous membrane that covers the outside of bone.

A drug that increases bone mineral density and reduces the risk of spinal fractures in post-menopausal women. Raloxifene works by affecting estrogen receptors in the body. The brand name for raloxifene is Evista.

A member of the bisphosphonate class of drugs, risedronate improves bone mineral density by slowing bone loss. A common brand name is Actonel.

Skeletal System
The rigid framework of bones in the body that supports soft tissues and protects internal organs.

Spinal Bracing
A non-surgical treatment option for spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis. Braces are typically worn for a short period of time to help to support your body weight during the fracture healing period.

Spinal Vertebral Column
The vertebral column xtends from the skull to the pelvis and is made up of 33 vertebrae. The spinal vertebral column is divided into 4 regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral.

A number derived by comparing your DEXA bone densitometry test results to an average score for a healthy adult of your gender and race who has reached their peak bone mass. The T-score signifies how far your bones are from "normal."

A type of parathyroid hormone, teriparatide increases bone formation by stimulating the bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) to produce more bone. A common brand name is Forteo.

The “Silent Disease”
Another name for osteoporosis, which references how early stages of the disease may present with no symptoms.

A spinal bone. Any one of the 33 individual bony segments of the spinal vertebral column.

Vertebral Compression Fracture
An injury to the spine in which 1 or more vertebrae collapse. If the collapse is only in the front part of the spine, it becomes wedge shaped and is called a compression fracture or wedge fracture. However, if the vertebral body is crushed in all directions it is called a burst fracture.

A procedure used to treat compression fractures that uses orthopaedic cement, which is injected into the fractured vertebra. The cement hardens and restores the vertebral bone's stability.

Vitamin D
A nutrient that helps your body properly absorb calcium. Your body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and some foods contain the nutrient as well.

The results of bone mineral testing for women who haven't yet gone through menopause and men younger than 70. Unlike a T-score, which compares your bone mineral density to a 20-something adult, your doctor will compare it to the normal bone mineral density for someone your age, gender, body type, and race.

Zoledronic acid
A member of the bisphosphonate class of drugs, zoledronic acid boosts bone mineral density by decreasing bone loss. A common brand name is Reclast.

Updated on: 09/10/19
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Osteoporosis Condition Center
Isador H. Lieberman, MD, MBA, FRCSC
Orthopaedic and Spinal Surgeon
Texas Back Institute
Plano, TX
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Osteoporosis Condition Center

Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but bone fractures of the spine—the vertebrae—are especially serious.
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