Osteoporosis is a common medical condition, affecting more than 3 million people in the UK. It rarely causes pain by itself, but it makes the bones fragile and therefore more likely to break. Currently, more than 500,000 people receive hospital treatment for fragility fractures every year as a result of osteoporosis. Today’s article is a helpful guide to osteoporosis. It’s important to learn the symptoms and causes of common conditions like osteoporosis, so you can spot the signs and get the best treatment quickly.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition which weakens your bones, making them more fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over time. Often, people have osteoporosis for months or even years before they get a diagnosis, or even notice any symptoms.
Generally, you’ll be diagnosed after a minor fall or sudden impact has caused a bone fracture. The most common bone injures are wrist or hip fractures. Until a fracture occurs, osteoporosis is often a painless condition.
Although our bone density naturally decreases as we get older, losing too much bone mass can lead to osteoporosis.
Bone is actually living tissue. Throughout life, the body breaks down old bone tissue and replaces it with new bone. However, around your late thirties, the body starts to remove bone tissue faster than it can replace it. This is what causes bone density to decrease, which can lead to osteoporosis in some cases.
The Royal Osteoporosis Society says that women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men for several reasons. Firstly, bone density tends to decrease quite quickly after the menopause (this is because the levels of oestrogen, which helps to keep the bones strong, decrease rapidly). Furthermore, women tend to live longer than men, and are therefore more likely to feel the effects of age on bone strength.
However, osteoporosis doesn’t just affect older women. Men, younger women, and children can also develop the condition.
There are several other factors which can increase your risk of osteoporosis:
- Heavy drinking
- Low body weight
- A family history of fractures
- Long-term use of high-dose oral corticosteroids
- Medical conditions such as inflammatory, hormone-related and malabsorption problems
- Having Rheumatoid Arthritis
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
In most cases, the first symptom will be a bone fracture, especially from a minor knock or bump. Wrist and hip fractures are particularly common.
You might also notice back pain and muscles spasms, alongside a noticeable change to your posture or height. These are signs of spinal fractures, which can also indicate osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, there are relatively few warning signs of osteoporosis. Therefore, it’s important to know whether you belong to any at-risk groups. If you have any of the risk factors we’ve discussed above, consider making an appointment with your GP. They can give you advice to help lower your risk and refer you for tests if necessary.
If there is a chance that you might have osteoporosis, your GP will conduct a few tests and scans. Firstly, they might use online software to assess your risk of breaking a bone. The algorithms in these programmes give a 10-year probability of hip fractures and a 10-year probability of a major fracture in the spine, hip, shoulder or forearm.
Your doctor might also refer you for a DEXA scan, which will measure your bone density. This scan is a short, painless procedure which takes less than 20 minutes, according to the NHS.
They will then calculate the difference between your bone density and that of a healthy young adult. This difference is called a T score. A particularly low T score (-2.5 or lower) is a strong indicator of osteoporosis.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
The treatment for osteoporosis aims to strengthen bones and prevent fractures. However, not everybody will need treatment. It will depend on the results of your DEXA scan, as well as a few other factors like age, sex, and previous injuries.
There are several bone-strengthening medications available. These help to maintain your bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures. Your doctor will advise you which kind of medication is best for you.
In addition to any medication, it’s also important to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D from your diet. These are both very important when it comes to bone strength. People with osteoporosis might need more calcium than usual – your doctor may recommend that you take calcium supplements. You might also benefit from taking vitamin D supplements in the winter.
How to Prevent Osteoporosis
Although the ageing process is inevitable, there are ways to reduce the chance of osteoporosis and keep your bones healthy. Here are some things to consider:
Staying active is essential to good health – including bone strength. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are particularly effective for maintaining bone density, which is key to preventing osteoporosis. Examples of this kind of exercise include walking, press-ups, and weightlifting. For more specific exercise recommendations, see the NHS website.
As with most medical conditions, having a healthy, balanced diet is a great prevention technique. Eating healthily can also help you to avoid other serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and forms of cancer.
As we’ve mentioned in this article, calcium and vitamin D are particularly important in the fight against osteoporosis. Examples of calcium-rich foods include dried fruit, yoghurt, tofu, and leafy green vegetables.
Good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, liver, red meat, oily fish, fortified foods such as fat spreads, and dietary supplements.
No Smoking and Less Drinking
Smoking can lead to osteoporosis, as well as dozens of life-threatening conditions. Research has shown that smoking can interfere with bone-building cells, and can result in earlier menopause for women. If you are a smoker, there has never been a better time to quit. See our stop smoking guide or check out the NHS guidance here.
Drinking too much alcohol is also a risk factor for fractures and osteoporosis. In addition, drinking makes you unsteady on your feet, which means you’re more likely to fall and break a bone. The best way of reducing the risk here is to stick to the government’s recommended alcohol limit of no more than 14 units per week.
Plenty of Sunshine
We know that vitamin D is important for bone strength. Luckily, you can get most of the vitamin D you need from sunlight in summer months. From late March to late September, make sure to spend plenty of time in daylight – a lunchtime walk is a great start.
Take the Test
If you’re curious about your risk of osteoporosis, you can take an online test here. Once you have answered all of the questions, you will receive a personalised report. This report will include advice about maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. It’s completely free, so well worth doing!
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For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. These criteria state that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness, or a disability to qualify.
Staying Safe at Home
A personal alarm can help protect people who suffer from medical conditions like osteoporosis. If you ever have a fall or need assistance, all you need to do is press the button on your pendant. This will send an alert through to our 24-hour Response Team, who will respond immediately and arrange for help to come to your home. We also offer GPS-enabled alarms for peace of mind wherever you go.
For more information on our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisors on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 24 May 2021 to reflect current information.