What is osteoporosis?
Bones are made up mostly of calcium. Osteoporosis is a condition where over time bone loses calcium.
As a result, the structure of bone becomes very fragile and brittle and this increases the risk of breaking a bone (also called a fracture) after a minor injury. Breaking a bone can often be the first sign of osteoporosis, but not everyone who experiences a broken bone has osteoporosis.
Having one or more of the following factors may suggest you are at risk of osteoporosis:
- Genes – Our bone health is largely dependent on the genes we inherit from our parents. In fact, if one of your parents has broken a hip, you may be more susceptible to developing osteoporosis and fragile bones.
- Age – Bone loss increases in later life so by the age of 75 about half of the population will have osteoporosis. As we get older bones become more fragile and more likely to break.
- Gender – Women have smaller bones than men and they also experience the menopause which accelerates the process of bone turnover. The female hormone oestrogen has a protective effect on bones. At the menopause (normally around the age of 50) the ovaries almost stop producing this hormone reducing the protection it gives to bones.
- Low body weight – If you have low BMI (body mass index) below 19g/m2 you are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Previous fractures – If you have already broken bones easily, including in the spine, then you are much more likely to have fractures in the future.
Some medical conditions increase your risk:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Low levels of the sex hormone oestrogen in women as a result of early menopause, having a hysterectomy with removal of ovaries (before the age of 45), eating disorders that reduce hormone production. Excessive exercise can also reduce hormone levels
- Low levels of the sex hormone, testosterone, in men following surgery for some cancers.
- Hyperthyroidism when levels of thyroid hormone are abnormally high and are not managed by a Health Care Professional for sometime
- Conditions that affect the absorption of food such as Crohns or coeliac disease
- Conditions that can cause periods of reduced mobility such as MS, Parkinsons
- Other conditions may be associated with osteoporosis such as diabetes and HIV (AIDS), COPD, CKD, this list is not exhaustive
Some medicines increase your risk:
- Taking corticosteroid tablets for other medical conditions for over three months
- Anti epileptic drugs
- Breast cancer treatments such as Aromatase Inhibitors
- Prostate cancer drugs that affect either the production of the male hormone testosterone or the way it works in the body.
Other risk factors include:
- Smoking – current smokers are more likely to break bones
- Alcohol – intake of more than 3 units daily
- Falling – older people who are at risk of falling are more likely to have fractures especially of the hip after the age of 75 years.
Consult your doctor or nurse if you are concerned. They can advise regarding further tests or treatment if necessary. If you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis, treatments are available to help strengthen your bones.