Take care of your bones and they will take care of you

Maintain bone strength and awareness to avoid the pitfalls...

World Osteoporosis Day is observed annually on 20th October and launches a year-long campaign dedicated to raising global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose their strength and are more likely to break. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and fragile, so that they break easily – even as a result of a minor fall, a bump, a sneeze, or a sudden movement. Osteoporosis doesn't show any outward symptoms and the first sign of it is often a broken bone. The bones most commonly broken as a result of osteoporosis are the wrist, hip and spine.

Osteoporosis itself is does not cause pain. But broken bones caused by osteoporosis can be painful, and sometimes lead to long-term difficulties. Spinal compression fractures can cause a change in body shape and ongoing, chronic back pain. Hip fractures can result in a loss of independence or reduced health and wellbeing. These long-term difficulties can have a big impact on the quality of life for those affected.

How common is osteoporosis?

More than three million people in the UK are estimated to have osteoporosis, a condition that causes some 300-500,000 fractures every year. Women are much more likely to be affected by osteoporosis than men; they are more susceptible because bone loss becomes more rapid for several years after the menopause, when sex hormone levels decrease.

Worldwide, one in three women and one in five men aged 50 years and over will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. Men often think they cannot get osteoporosis; this confusion can sometimes make it more difficult to accept the condition and seek help.

Younger men, and women who have yet to go through the menopause, can also have osteoporosis and fractures, although this is more unusual.

Who is at risk of osteoporosis?

All men and women have some risk of developing osteoporosis as they become older, particularly over the age of 50. You are more likely to be at risk if you:

  • Are a woman and you had your menopause/hysterectomy before the age of 45
  • Have already had a bone fracture after a minor fall or bump
  • Have a strong family history of osteoporosis (that is, a mother, father, sister or brother affected)
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) of 19 or less (that is, you are very underweight), e.g. if you have anorexia nervosa
  • Are a woman and your periods stop for six months to a year or more before the time of your menopause. This can happen for various reasons, e.g. over-exercising
  • Have taken, or are taking, a steroid medicine for three months or more
  • Are a smoker
  • Drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol each day
  • Lack calcium and/or vitamin D (due to a poor diet and/or little exposure to sunlight)
  • Do not exercise regularly or are not very mobile, e.g. if you are confined to a wheelchair
  • Have, or had, certain medical conditions such as:
    • An overactive thyroid
    • Coeliac disease
    • Cushing's syndrome
    • Crohn's disease
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Any condition that causes poor mobility.

There are also other risk factors not listed here.

Signs you might have osteoporosis

The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are:

  • Wrist fractures
  • Hip fractures
  • Fractures of the spinal bones (vertebrae).

However, they can also occur in other bones, such as in the arm or pelvis. Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a rib fracture or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine.
Osteoporosis isn't usually painful until a fracture occurs, but spinal fractures are a common cause of long-term (chronic) pain.

Although a fracture is the first sign of osteoporosis, some older people develop the characteristic stooped (bent forward) posture. It happens when the bones in the spine have fractured, making it difficult to support the weight of the body.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Health professionals will use a range of scans, tests and checks including ordinary x-rays, blood tests, bone density scans, fracture risk assessment, MRI scans, radio isotope bone scans, CT scans and bone markers. Which investigations you need will depend upon your individual situation.

What can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

Particularly important for those more likely at risk:

  • Exercise can stimulate bone-making cells and strengthen your bones. Regular weight-bearing exercise throughout life is best but it is never too late to start.
  • Food and diet: Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health. Calcium is primarily found in leafy green vegetables, fruit and yoghurt and vitamin D can be found in oily fish, red meat, live, egg yolks and some fortified foods and through sunlight.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight, avoid smoking and excessive drinking.
  • Find out whether you have risk factors and bring these to your doctor’s attention, especially if you’ve had a previous fracture or have specific diseases and medications that affect bone health.
  • Get tested and treated if needed: if you’re at high risk you will likely need medication to ensure optimal protection against fracture.
  • Avoid falls where possible.

Medication for osteoporosis

Various medicines are available that can help to prevent and treat bone loss or help relieve pain:

  • Osteoporosis drugs
  • Acute and chronic pain can respond well to pain-relieving medications such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen).

There's a good video as well.

Want to know more about World Osteoporosis?

Check this out