What is it?
New bone cells are being made all the time and old bone cells broken down. In the young, the rate of bone production is usually faster than the rate of destruction. But with increasing age, from about the age of 35, this trend is reversed and bone cells die faster than new ones are made.
In some individuals, this process is faster than is normal, making their bones thinner and more likely to break. This condition is called osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is commoner in women, probably due to the hormonal changes that occur at menopause. People who take corticosteroids (steroid drugs) for some other conditions are also more likely to come down with osteoporosis.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of osteoporosis are:
• Easy breakability of bones due to weakness.
• Back pain from fractures in the spine
• Humping of the back, and other skeletal deformities.
The bones most likely to break in people with osteoporosis are those in the spine, hip, and wrist.
It is important to know that some people don’t know that they have this condition until a fracture occurs. Hence the need for regular periodic check-ups as one grows older, so that the issue can be addressed early enough. The doctor uses a special bone scan called the DXA scan to know the degree of osteoporosis one has, and gives the result as the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) score.
What treatments are available?
There are things one can do on their own to prevent fractures from happening. They include:
- Taking regular exercise, especially the weight-bearing ones like jogging.
- Healthy eating: Adequate calcium intake (from milk, yoghurt and green vegetables).
- Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
- Avoiding falls by adopting appropriate safety measures.
There are several medicines that can help keep the bones stronger for longer. The doctor needs to prescribe these drugs and provide adequate information and guidance on their use.
The medicines most often used to treat or prevent osteoporosis are tablets called bisphosphonates. They help prevent fractures by slowing down the rate of bone destruction.
Another drug sometimes used to treat osteoporosis is raloxifene. It can help reduce the chance of fractures of the spine.
The main drug treatments for women who develop osteoporosis after the menopause are bisphosphonates. But other options like denusomab, teriparatide and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are available. These need to be closely monitored by the doctor.
People on long-term corticosteroid use are also advised to take bisphosphonates as well as calcium and vitamin D supplements.
What will happen?
Having osteoporosis doesn’t necessarily mean one must fracture their bones. If the right things are done, the chances of fractures ever occurring are significantly reduced.
However, if such things as a hip fracture occur, it can make it hard for one to live independently afterwards. This is because older people recover more slowly from broken bones.