What is osteoporosis?

Our bodies naturally build new bone and remove older bone throughout our lifetime. Between the ages of 30 to 45, the cells that build new bone become slower than those that remove bone. The total amount of bone then declines, and osteoporosis may develop as a result.

Normal bones

Normal bone is dense and strong

Thinning bones

In osteoporosis, bone has thinned, making it more likely to break.  Osteoporosis affects an estimated 75 million people in Europe, USA and Japan. Without treatment, as many as 1 in 3 women (and 1 in 5 men) over the age of 50 will have at least one fracture caused by osteoporosis. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, the good news is there is a lot you can do to help protect your bones: this guide will advise you on how you can help reduce your risk of fracture and further bone loss.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease, and there are often no early symptoms. It may go undiagnosed and get worse with little or no pain until a bone breaks. Once a fracture occurs, additional fractures are more likely to occur, often after what appears to be only a minor injury.

As the condition progresses, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Back pain
  • Loss of height and a stooped posture
  • A curved upper back

If left untreated, osteoporosis can lead to loss of independence and a reduced quality of life.

What can contribute to osteoporosis?

There are a number of factors that can accelerate bone loss and increase your risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Use of certain medications such as corticosteroids
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Smoking
  • Lack of calcium in the diet
  • Lack of exercise

How can you test for osteoporosis?

Women are more likely to suffer osteoporosis than men.

This is because they experience menopause in which decreasing levels of oestrogen can accelerate bone loss and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis occurs when bone density and quality are reduced, greatly increasing the risk of fracture. A special x-ray called a DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan can be used to find out if you have osteoporosis, or are at risk of developing osteoporosis. The DXA scan is painless and takes about 10 minutes. This x-ray exposure is much weaker than regular x-ray exposure.  The computer generates a printout with pictures and results.

What do the test results mean?

The results of the DXA tell you the values for the parts of your body that were measured. The values are called T-scores and Z-scores and show your bone mineral density (BMD).

Your T-score is your bone density compared with what is normally expected in a healthy young adult of your gender.

Understanding T-score results

Your doctor will be able to see if you have osteoporosis using your T-score results.  Your Z-score is your bone density compared with people with the same characteristics as you, including age and gender. The Z-score is not used for diagnosis for those over the age of 50 because low bone density is common in this age group.

T- Score, What your score means

Above -1: your bone density level is normal.

Between -1 and -2.5: your score indicates osteopenia, which means your BMD is lower than normal and may lead to osteoporosis.

Below -2.5: Your bone density indicates you have osteoporosis.

You have osteoporosis - what is next?

It may not seem like it right now, but finding out if you have osteoporosis is a great first step toward managing your condition. It is important that you understand what is happening to you and what action you can take. If you have osteoporosis, there are treatment options available that can help maintain bone density and help decrease your risk of fractures. Your doctor may prescribe you a medication and discuss lifestyle changes you can make to help protect your bones, like those below.

How to help protect your bones

• Stick to your medicine

The good news is that the right osteoporosis treatment can help stop its progress provided you take your medication as prescribed and follow your doctor’s advice

• Get enough vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an important role in protecting your bones. It helps your body absorb calcium from the foods you eat. Vitamin D is produced in your body when you spend time in sunlight, and you can also get it by eating certain vitamin D-rich foods like eggs and fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon and tuna. As you age, your ability to produce vitamin D declines. It therefore becomes increasingly important to improve your vitamin D intake from other sources. If you are 50 years or older and have osteoporosis, you will need to take in about 800-1,000 IU per day of vitamin D in supplement form

• Exercise

An exercise regime developed in association with your doctor including weight-bearing exercise such as walking and muscle-strengthening exercise can help build and maintain bone density. Other non-impact activities such as yoga or pilates can also help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls and fractures