More than three million people in the UK are suffering from a silent killer disease. Over 50s are most at risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become weak and brittle.
It’s called a “silent” disease” because there are typically no symptoms until a bone is broken, having developed over several years.
The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are broken wrist, hip or spinal bones (vertebrae). It’s also common to see breaks in the arm or pelvis.
Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a broken rib or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine. And while osteoporosis is not usually painful until a bone is broken, a break in the spine can cause long-term pain.
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Other than broken bones, it’s common for older people to develop a stooped, bent over posture. This is due to the bones in the spine breaking, meaning it cannot support the weight of the body properly.
What are the causes?
The main cause is loss of bone, which happens naturally as we get older. However, some people lose more than others and at a faster pace, leaving them more at risk.
Women are more at risk of the disease than men because they lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause, especially if it begins before the age of 45 or they have had their ovaries removed. However, osteoporosis can also affect men, younger women and children.
According to the NHS, other causes include:
- 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
- having a low body mass index (BMI)
- not exercising regularly
- heavy drinking and smoking.
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How to treat osteoporosis
There are a number of simple treatments such as taking medication to strengthen your bones. It depends on whether you’re at a greater risk of developing the disease due to your weaker bones.
Doctors weigh up a number of factors such as your age, sex and the results of your bone density scan.
If you need treatment, your doctor can suggest the safest and most effective treatment plan for you.
How to prevent osteoporosis
If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis, you should take steps to help keep your bones healthy. This may include:
- taking regular exercise to keep your bones as strong as possible
- healthy eating – including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D
- taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D
- making lifestyle changes – such as giving up smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption.
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