Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile and more likely to break (fracture). These fractures most commonly occur in the spine, wrist and hips, but can affect other bones such as the spine, arm or pelvis.
From about the age of 35, you gradually lose bone density. This is a normal part of ageing, but for some people it can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.
There are often no warning signs for osteoporosis until someone experiences a fracture, usually after a minor fall.
If your doctor suspects you have osteoporosis, or are at high risk of developing the condition, you may be referred for a bone density scan.
Treatment for osteoporosis is based on treating and preventing fractures and using medication to strengthen your bones.
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Brittle bones)
Although a diagnosis of osteoporosis is based on the results of your bone density scan, the decision about what treatment, if any, you have can be based on a number of factors, including your risk of fracture. If you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis because you've had a fracture, you should still be treated to try to reduce the risk of any further fractures.
You may not need or want to take drugs to treat your osteoporosis; however, you should maintain good levels of calcium and vitamin D in your body.
There are a number of different drug treatments for osteoporosis. Your doctor will discuss treatments available and make sure the medicines are right for you.
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Treating osteoporosis)
Although your genes determine your potential height and the strength of your skeleton, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can influence how healthy your bones are.
Broken bones usually take six to eight weeks to recover. Having osteoporosis does not affect how long this takes. Recovery depends on the type of fracture you have. Some fractures heal easily, but others may require more intervention.
Osteoporosis can cause a loss of height as a result of fractures in the spinal column. This means the spine is no longer able to support your body's weight and it causes a hunched posture. This can be painful when it occurs, and may also lead to long-term pain (chronic pain). Your doctor may be able to help with this.
During the healing process, you may need the help of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to make as full a recovery as possible.
You should be able to continue to work when you have osteoporosis.
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Living with osteoporosis)
Facts & figures
- Osteoporosis can affect men and women. It is more common in older people, but it can affect younger people too.
- Women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men. This is because changes in hormone levels can affect bone density. The female hormone oestrogen is essential for healthy bones, but its level in the body falls after menopause. This can lead to a rapid decrease in bone density.
- For most men who develop osteoporosis, the cause is unknown. However, there is a link to the male hormone testosterone which helps to keep the bones healthy.
- A person is admitted to an Australian hospital every five to six minutes with an osteoporotic fracture. This is expected to rise to every three to four minutes by the year 2021 as the population ages and the numbers of these fractures increase.
- About 50% of people who have had one fracture due to osteoporosis will have another.
- The risk of future fractures rising with each new fracture is called the ‘cascade effect’.
- People who have had two or more osteoporotic fractures are up to nine times more likely to have another fracture compared to someone who has not had one. This rises to 11 times greater risk for people who have had three or more fractures.