All post-menopausal women should speak to their GP about a bone mineral density test.
We all know the old adage, prevention is better than cure, but no where is this more pertinent than in the case of osteoporosis.
Under-recognised and under-diagnosed, the good news is that if caught early enough, osteoporosis is an entirely preventable and treatable disease.
The flip side of the coin is that it is often only once a fracture has occurred that osteoporosis is diagnosed - and herein lies the problem because the statistics for recovery are frightening.
In the UK alone, one in two women, and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
1 in 5 who have a hip fracture die within a year, whilst 60% never regain full independence and require some sort of care. 40% of those who break a bone will never be able to return to work.
The potential debilitating nature of osteoporosis is clear, and statistics like these are the reason that the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) is urging everyone to be responsible for their bones, to speak to their GP about osteoporosis, and ask for a bone mineral density scan which can assess your risk of osteoporosis.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally means porous bone, and it is known as the silent thief because it gradually ekes strength away from your bones without any physical discomfort. So it is only once a bone has become brittle enough to break, that it is discovered.
Bone is a living tissue and new bone is constantly replacing old bone. Up until the age of thirty, the body continues to make enough new bone to replace the old, but as we get older, our body's ability to make more new bone decreases and the bones gradually start to weaken.
Fractures from osteoporosis usually occur in the wrist, spine or hip - areas which contain smaller bones that weaken more rapidly than the bigger bones in the body.
Am I At Risk?
Although osteoporosis affects both men and women, it is more common in postmenopausal women because they have reduced levels of the hormone oestrogen, which helps maintain strong bones. Men who have reduced levels of testosterone are also more susceptible.
Women need to speak up about bone health, get scanned, ask for treatment, and ask for a treatment which suits your lifestyle, says the IOF.
Osteoporosis is often a disease dealt with in stereotypes. The typical image of an osteoporosis sufferer is that of an elderly bent over lady who is frail and fragile, yet this certainly is not the case, and a fracture can occur in anyone over 50 who considers themselves active.
Genetic factors play a large part in determining whether an individual is at risk of osteoporosis, so if someone in your family has had the condition, the chances are you are more likely to get it too.
Age is also another inescapable factor, and as we get older the prevalence of osteoporosis increases, so half of all seventy-five-year -olds have the disease.
Some medical conditions and some medications can also increase your risk, and if you are concerned you should speak to you GP or visit the National Osteoporosis Society's 'Am I At Risk' page for further information.
Healthy habits such a not smoking or drinking alcohol to excess, good nutrition and exercise can influence the rate of bone loss and play a key role in determining how quickly our body loses bone in later life. Exercise and nutrition is key to building strong bones up to the age of thirty, but is also essential to maintaining a healthy skeleton as we age.
Medical research has produced mixed results about whether calcium supplements taken in conjunction with vitamin D reduce the risk of a fracture. Some studies suggest that it does reduce the risk, but others have concluded that supplementing has little effect. Nevertheless, once diagnosed with osteoporosis, calcium combined with vitamin D supplements are usually recommended.
It is worth noting that calcium supplements alone have little effect on the strength of the bones, unless it is taken in conjunction with vitamin D, which carries the mineral to the bones.
What Can I Do To Prevent Osteoporosis?
The IOF is urging all women who have been through the menopause to build up a dialogue with your GP, and speak to them about getting a bone mineral density scan to assess your risk for osteoporosis.
Unlike breast cancer, where all women over the age of 60 are entitled to a mammogram on the NHS, it is not routine to give all post-menopausal women a bone mineral density scan.
If you already take certain medications or have a family history of the disease, you should qualify for a bone mineral density scan.
For full guidelines on whether you would be eligible, read the National Osteoporosis Society's bone mineral density scan information document.
However, with the onset of an ageing demographic, the IOF is stressing that prevention is better than cure. So, although you may not currently qualify, still speak to your GP and see what they say. And continue to raise this issue with them.
The disease currently costs the NHS £1.7 billion a year which equates to £5 million a day. With the onset of an ageing demographic, using drugs to prevent fractures in women already known to have low bone density could be the most cost-effective practice for the future.
The IOF is also urging women currently on osteoporosis medication who skip their medication or find it difficult to take, to speak to their GP about alternative treatments that will better suit their lifestyle.
If you miss your medication, protection from a fracture is reduced by 60%, but there are now monthly and yearly osteoporosis treatments available, so speak to your GP about the alternatives.
UK National Osteoporosis Society: http://www.nos.org.uk
International Osteoporosis Foundation: http://www.iofbonehealth.org/
Rachael Hannan: October 2008
Published on 50connect.co.uk