Osteoporosis (brittle bones) is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more prone to fracture. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a fall or sudden impact causes a bone to break (fracture). Menopause can also increase the chances of developing osteoporosis because decreased oestrogen levels can lead to bone loss.
The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are:
- broken wrist
- broken hip (hip fracture)
- broken spinal bones (vertebrae)
However, breaks can also happen in other bones, such as the arm or pelvis. Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a broken rib or the partial collapse of one of the spine’s bones.
Although a broken bone is often the first sign of osteoporosis, some older people develop the characteristic stooped (bent forward) posture. It happens when the bones in the spine have broken, making it difficult to support the body’s weight.
The stage before osteoporosis is called osteopenia. This is when a bone density scan shows you have lower bone density than the average for your age, but not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis. I was diagnosed with this two years ago but with the right treatment, you can still not develop osteoporosis.
I have been put on a calcium and vitamin D tablet which I take twice a day. A diet that’s low in calcium contributes to reduced bone density (the amount of calcium and other minerals that are found in your bones), premature bone loss, and an increased risk of fracture.
Men do get osteoporosis but it is more common in women because women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men, and may experience bone loss during menopause.
People who do not exercise regularly are also more at risk of developing osteoporosis than people who do regular exercise.
Several studies show that smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture as does drinking lots of alcohol.
People who are very thin (with a BMI of 19 or under) are more at risk of developing osteoporosis, as they usually have less bone mass to draw from.
Other factors can also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, including:
- taking high-dose steroid tablets for more than 3 months
- other medical conditions – such as inflammatory conditions, hormone-related conditions, or malabsorption problems
- a family history of osteoporosis – particularly a hip fracture in a parent
- long-term use of certain medicines that can affect bone strength or hormone levels, such as anti-oestrogen tablets that many women take after breast cancer
- having or having had an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia
Some great ways to help improve your bone health include eating more vegetables, staying active, trying weight-bearing exercises, making sure you are getting plenty of Vitamin D by being out in the sunshine or taking supplements, eating calcium-rich foods, keeping your smoking or drinking to a minimum or not at all and maintain a healthy weight.