Osteoporosis affects over 3 million people in the UK. It is where the bones become more fragile, weak, and likely to break. Osteoporosis is a chronic condition, which develops slowly over years and is usually not painful unless it progresses to a fracture (a break in the bone). Often, it's only after sustaining a fracture that most people find out they have osteoporosis. The common sites for injuries and fractures are the bones in the spine (called the vertebrae), the hip, and the wrists, but fractures can occur anywhere. Prior to developing osteoporosis, your bones will transition through a phase of osteopenia. This is when you have a lower density of bone compared to others your age. Developing osteopenia doesn't necessarily mean you will develop osteoporosis and there are things you can do to prevent it from occurring.
The loss of bone is a normal part of ageing, especially for women after the menopause. But there are a number of situations that can accelerate this condition. Drinking or smoking heavily, having reduced levels of activity, or having a low BMI (for example due to eating disorders) puts you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis. There are also certain medications that increase your risk, such as taking high-dose steroids for more than 3 months or being on anti-oestrogen tablets after breast cancer. A family history of osteoporosis, as well as certain medical conditions such as inflammatory or hormone related conditions, also increases your risk.
By using a risk calculator such as the FRAX or Qfracture tools, your doctor will be able to calculate the probability of you having osteoporosis in the future. If the risk is high, your doctor will refer you for a bone density scan (DEXA) for confirmation.
There are simple measures you can do to slow down the progression of osteoporosis. It is important to make lifestyle changes, including eating healthy (such as food rich with Vitamin D and calcium), exercising regularly to strengthen your bones, taking daily supplements of Vitamin D, and giving up smoking, alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight.
There are medicines available on prescription to strengthen your bones if you are at risk of fractures. Your doctor will consider many things before starting you on treatment, including the results of your scan, your age, your current medication, and your medical history. It is also important to reduce your risk of falls. This can be done by removing any hazards from your home and ensuring that you have regular checkups for your vision and hearing. Osteoporosis is a long-term condition and there are many groups and persons that can help support you with living with this.