What are the risk factors?

Both women and men are susceptible to osteoporosis, it is however more common in older people but can affect all ages. Some additional factors can also increase the risk:

  • Family history of osteoporosis or a family history of spinal, hip or wrist fractures
  • Women who have had an early menopause or hysterectomy before the age of 45, with reduced levels of oestrogen hormone (helps keep the bone health of women)
  • Men with low levels of the hormone testosterone (helps keep the bone health of males)
  • People diagnosed with conditions such as hyperthyroidism, disorders of the pituitary or adrenal glands
  • People who drink or smoke excessively, are immobile for long periods of time or have digestive disorders such as celiac disease

This is not an exhaustive list and if you feel you are at risk you should consult your GP.

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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is defined as a decline in the bone mineral density of the bones of the body which causes them to become weak and fragile and more likely to break or fracture. This is most common in the hip, spine and wrist, but also can occur in other bones such as the arm and pelvis. Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bone’. 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 in the UK will fracture a bone at some point due to deteriorating bone health. Over 3 million people in the UK are thought to have osteoporosis resulting in over 230,000 fractures every year.

What are the symptoms?

Osteoporosis develops slowly over several years and is quite often termed a ‘silent disease’ as the first symptoms may in fact be a fracture or break following a minor fall or sudden impact. This would be termed a fragility fracture. Another visible symptom can be the stooping position (Dowager's hump) that occurs in some older people, as the spine can no longer hold the body’s weight, due to compression fractures in individual vertebrae (the bones which make up the spine).

Prevention?

Although some conditions can predispose a person to osteoporosis there are life style changes that can help. Some of these are as follows:

  • Eat a varied and healthy diet containing vitamins such as Vitamin D and minerals such as calcium
  • Try to reduce both the consumption of alcohol and excess smoking
  • Try some weight bearing exercises such as brisk walking and dancing

In all cases if you feel you are at risk of osteoporosis or indeed have the condition you should consult your GP

What will happen next?

Once you see the GP and discuss your condition he/she may refer you for a DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan. This is not a painful or invasive procedure. It will measure the density of your bones and compare it to that of the general healthy population; the difference (if any) gives a T score. The T score is one of the main determinants of whether you have osteoporosis.