What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones, causing them
to become thin and weak. It is very common and is more frequently
found in older people. As many as 1 in 3 women are affected,
compared to only 1 in 12 men, due to women having a lower bone mass
and the effects of the menopause.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
The bones are thickest and strongest in early adult life. From
around the age of 35, more bone cells are lost than are replaced.
Healthy bones are repaired and reinforced by a variety of proteins
and minerals. The growth hormones and sex hormones control the
amount of mineral substance deposited in the bones. Changes in
hormone levels can therefore affect the strength of the bones. For
example, the female hormone oestrogen offers some protection
against osteoporosis. After the menopause, oestrogen levels fall,
often causing the bones to thin quickly.
Osteoporosis is a condition that develops slowly over several
years. Symptoms are not evident in the early stages and can take
months or years to appear. Signs of osteoporosis include joint
pain, difficulty standing or sitting up straight, or fracturing a
bone without much force or impact.
When the bones are significantly thinned, breakages of the
wrist, hip, or spinal bones (vertebra) are most common. A cough or
a sneeze may cause the fracture of a rib, or the partial collapse
of one of the bones of the spine.
A fractured bone in an older person can be serious, because the
bone is no longer able to repair itself effectively. This can lead
to arthritis, and even disability in severe cases. The typical
stooping (bent forward) position that is common in older people is
a visible sign of osteoporosis. It happens when the bones in the
spine are fractured (cracked), making it difficult to support the
weight of the body.
As signs of osteoporosis can go unnoticed at first it is
often undiagnosed until the weakening of the bones has led to a
broken bone. A bone density scan, called a dual energy X-ray
absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, is used to measure the density of bones
and compare this to normal healthy bones. This test measures the
strength of bones and the risk of fracture.
There are a number of different treatments available for
osteoporosis including calcium and vitamin D supplements,
medication and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, can influence how
healthy your bones are and the rate at which they repair
themselves. Following a healthy lifestyle throughout life is the
best way to delay the onset of osteoporosis in later life, and slow
the rate at which your bones become brittle. You can do this by
taking regular exercise, taking plenty of calcium, not smoking and
drinking in moderation.
You can find more detailed information at the links below.