Osteoporosis happens when bone density decreases and the body stops producing as much bone as it did before. It is estimated that around 3 million people in the UK have osteoporosis. As the bones become weaker, there is a higher risk of a fracture during a fall or even a fairly minor knock. In the UK, one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will fracture a bone, mainly due to poor bone health. But osteoporosis is often a silent condition, giving no pain or other symptoms to alert you to the fact until the worst happens and a bone breaks.
What is osteoporosis?
“Osteoporosis” literally means “bones with holes”. It occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them. The bones become weaker, increasing the risk of fractures, especially in the hip, spinal vertebrae, and wrist. Bone tissue is constantly being renewed, and new bone replaces old, damaged bone. In this way, the body maintains bone density and the integrity of its crystals and structure. Most people don’t realise they have osteoporosis until a fracture happens, as there are usually no signs or symptoms. This is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis causes no specific pain or symptoms. However, it does increase the risk of serious or debilitating fractures. If you think you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis, see your doctor.
Diagnosis of osteoporosis
If your doctor or osteopath suspects you have osteoporosis, they can make an assessment using an online programme, such as FRAX or Q-Fracture. They may also refer you for a DEXA (DXA) scan to measure your bone mineral density. It’s a short, painless procedure that takes about five minutes, depending on the part of the body being scanned.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis, some of which you cannot change, such as being female, and having a direct relative who has had an osteoporotic fracture. Some of the other risks:
- Inadequate amounts of dietary calcium
- Low vitamin D levels
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol intake of more than two standard drinks per day
- Caffeine intake of more than three cups of coffee or equivalent per day
- Lack of physical activity
- Early menopause (before the age of 45)
- Loss of menstrual period if it is associated with reduced production of oestrogen, which is vital for healthy bones (the menstrual cycle can cease following excessive dieting and exercise)
- Long term use of medication such as corticosteroids for rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
Prevention of osteoporosis
Both men and women can take steps from a young age to prevent osteoporosis by making sure that they:
- Have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
- Eat calcium-rich foods – dairy products, green leafy vegetables, nuts are few suggestions.
- Absorb enough vitamin D or maybe you need a supplement?
- Make lifestyle changes – such as giving up smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption
- Limit your caffeine intake
- Carry out regular weight-bearing and strength-training activities.
Treatment for osteoporosis includes:
- A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
- An exercise plan
- A healthy lifestyle
- Medications, if needed.
If you have osteoporosis, it is never too late to seek treatment, as age is one of the main risk factors for osteoporosis and breaks. Treatment can reduce bone loss and significantly reduce the risk of fractures. It is important that your doctor excludes other medical conditions that can cause osteoporosis, including vitamin D deficiency.
If you would like practical advice on risk factors, prevention and treatment, please book an appointment to see one of Woodside Clinic’s Osteopaths or Physiotherapists or book an appointment with your GP.