Osteoporosis

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What is osteoporosis?

Bone is a living tissue, but as we get older it isn’t able to renew itself as well so it starts to weaken. This happens to everybody to some extent, though it’s only called osteoporosis when the bones become quite fragile. There are usually no symptoms, and it’s often only discovered when you break a bone in a minor accident or fall.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

If you’ve broken a bone in a relatively minor fall or accident, it’s quite often the first sign of osteoporosis. You may also have back pain, which is caused by the bones in your spinal column (vertebrae) becoming weak and damaged.

Who gets osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is quite common in the UK. It mainly affects women, particularly after the menopause, but it can also affect men.

What causes osteoporosis?

You’re at greater risk of developing osteoporosis if:
  • you’ve needed steroid treatment for more than 3 months
  • you have a family history of osteoporosis
  • you don’t get much exercise
  • you smoke or drink heavily

If you’re a woman, your risk may be increased if you’ve been through the menopause, especially if it was before the age of 45.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

There are no obvious physical signs of osteoporosis so the condition may go undetected for years. If your doctor suspects osteoporosis, they may suggest you have a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan.

What treatments are there for osteoporosis?

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • calcium and vitamin D
  • bisphosphonates (eg alendronate, risedronate)
  • strontium ranelate
  • teriparatide
  • raloxifene
  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Self-help and daily living for osteoporosis

Try the following tips to help ease your symptoms:
  • Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D as part of a well-balanced diet
  • Exercise – especially activities that involve running or jogging
  • Stop smoking
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol

Research and new developments for osteoporosis

Research has recently produced the FRAX assessment tool, which measures a patient’s risk of having an osteoporotic fracture.

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