What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis (porous bone) is a condition where bone is loss at a rate greater than it is being replaced or renewed. The bone loss is so great that bones become thin and brittle and break easily. Although bone is constantly being renewed as a normal body function, it is strongest till the age of 35 after which the balance between bone loss and bone renewal is biased towards bone loss. Osteoporosis denotes a far greater discrepancy than normal.
Which Bones Are Most Affected?
The hip, wrist and spine are the most likely to suffer osteoporosis and are more likely to fracture because of it. It is therefore important to develop strong bones in the first half of life to reduce the chance of getting osteoporosis later in life.
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Anyone can get osteoporosis and it is not confined purely to older people. You are at high risk of suffering from osteoporosis, if you are:
- from a family with a history of osteoporosis.
- middle aged or older.
- a woman lacking in the femal hormone oestrogen. This can be due to:
(b) removal of the ovaries (which produce oestrogen)
(c) irregular periods or no periods - this may be due to eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia or even excessive physical exercise.
- an older man with decreasing levels of testosterone (the male hormone).
- thin or small boned.
- taking medications such as steroids (long term for asthma, or rheumatoid arthritis).
- suffering from poor renal (kidney) function.
- inactive for long periods of time - eg confined to bed or the house.
- a high user of alcohol of caffeine.
- a heavy smoker.
- someone with low calcium intake.
- an older personwho has had a fracture after a minor fall.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
Preventing osteoporosis is far easier than treating it. Bones cannot be readily repaired once they have been badly damaged. The most important thing to note is to take steps when you are young to prevent osteoporosis - if you develop strong bones whilst young, this delays the time when bones start to become porous. To maintain the strenght of bone you need to:
- Excercise - regularly for 30 minutes or more each day. Weight bearing exercise strengthens bone, increases agility, improves balance and reduces the chances of falling.
- Have exposure to sunlight - this manufactures Vitamin D which is used by the body to maintain and strengthen bone.
- avoid too much alcohol or smoking.
- reduce salt intake and have a balanced diet - make sure you have enough calcium in your diet - calcium rich foods include:
dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, ect)
soy bean products
In some individuals certain factors may increase the risk of osteoporosis. You should seek your physicians advice if:
- you are past menopause - check out the possibility of HRT or hormone replacement therapy.
- you are on long term medication - ask your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis.
- you do not eat enough dairy foods or are intolerant to them.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Doctors generally advise having your bone density measure, if you or they, suspect that you may be suffering from osteoporosis. An x-ray scanner called a densitometer is used (DEXA scanning).
Treatment of Osteoporosis
Treatment depends on your age, sex and medical history and is obviously closely linked to the severity of the osteoporosis. Essentially, treatment is targeted at reducing bone loss and to maintain or improve your mobility and quality of life. You may be advised to:
- alter your diet - calcium rich foods.
- exercise daily - to strengthen bone.
- take dietary supplements - such as calcium and vitamin D.
- take hormones as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), commonly this is for post-meno
Information on osteoporosis was kindly supplied by The Arthritis Foundation of New Zealand and The National Health Committee.