Osteoporosis vs. Osteomalacia

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  • 0:04 Similar But Different…
  • 0:35 Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia
  • 1:37 What Is the Difference?
  • 1:57 Word Parts
  • 2:46 The Process
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

It's easy to be confused by two conditions that have similar features. This lesson briefly teaches you about osteoporosis and osteomalacia, explaining the major difference between the two conditions.

Similar But Different Disorders

Isn't it confusing when two things sound the same and share so many similarities, yet they are still technically different? For instance, tangerines and mandarins look, smell, and taste kind of similar, but yet they're classified as different fruits.

In medicine, this happens as well. One medical example are the diseases osteoporosis and osteomalacia, which both involve vitamin D, calcium, and fractures. Let's briefly cover what they are about and exactly how they are different.

Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia

Osteoporosis is a disorder that leads to weak and brittle bones. This means people with osteoporosis are more likely to experience a fracture from even a simple fall from a standing position when compared to a healthy person. An improper amount of vitamin D and calcium in the diet and a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing or exacerbating osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is generally seen in the elderly, especially women.

Osteomalacia is a condition where excessive and prolonged deficiencies in vitamin D soften and weaken the bones and make them more likely to fracture. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium from our food or supplements, and calcium helps keep our bones nice and strong. Osteomalacia is the adult version of a well-known condition in children called rickets. Besides a dietary vitamin D deficiency, osteomalacia may be caused by a kidney disorder or a digestive disorder. Such conditions can lead to lower than normal levels of vitamin D in the body.

What Is the Difference?

Now that you understand the basics of these conditions, you're probably confused as to their differences since they seem almost the same, like a tangerine and a mandarin. Let's actually nail down how they are different despite the fact that they share many similarities. First, it helps to simply break down the two words into their respective parts.

Word Parts

Osteoporosis comes from osteo-, which means bone and -porosis, which means a porous condition. And what do you know? In osteoporosis, the bones become very porous (less dense). This means they become weaker, and they are more likely to fracture (break) as a result.

Osteomalacia is similar in its prefix of osteo-. However, its suffix is quite different. The suffix is malacia, which means an abnormal softening of something. Thus, osteomalacia leads to softer bones.

You can really simplify the differences between them to this: osteoporosis leads to brittle bones, and osteomalacia leads to soft bones. Either one can cause a fracture, just like brittle glass or soft clay can easily break apart.

The Process

The process that leads to either one is the key to understanding their underlying difference. In osteoporosis, bones are broken down faster than they can re-form. This is what causes the bones to become less dense and thus more brittle.

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