Everybody’s bones become weaker with age. For some of us, though, it is a serious problem. So, it’s important to know about osteoporosis, including what to look for and how you can help yourself.
The word ‘osteoporosis’ literally means ‘porous bones’, describing a condition where an ageing skeleton loses a significant proportion of its mineral content, calcium in particular. This often results in the loss of bone density and strength, causing bones to become more brittle.
The age-related condition is common – one in two women and one in five men aged over 50 experience fractures, mostly caused by low bone strength1. So it’s important to recognise the symptoms of osteoporosis and seek expert advice on combating or living with the disease.
Fortunately, there is a range of medications and supplements available that are shown to slow down the rate at which bone is broken down and to stimulate the growth of new bone2. Lifestyle considerations are also important, however – there is a need to balance the risk of falls with staying as active and healthy as possible through exercise and diet.
In fact, just as daily physical activity is important for maintaining your muscles and your cardio-vascular system, it is also a highly effective way of keeping your bones in good condition. By the same token, an inactive lifestyle is both a sign and a cause of weaker bones as you age, so it’s important to do what you can. Just make sure you take medical advice before starting on a new programme of exercise.
The most important step towards addressing the threat of brittle bones is to recognise the signs that you might be at risk of osteoporosis. Some indicators, such as fragile finger nails, might initially appear to be insignificant. Others, such as easily broken bones (wrist, hip and spinal fractures being particularly common) are obviously far more serious.
So let’s start with breaking bones. If you have not been diagnosed with osteoporosis but find that you experience fractures easily see a medical professional as soon as you can. The situation is particularly urgent if a simple fall – or even a movement such as stretching to open a high cupboard – results in a fracture. Remember, people with osteoporosis can often not tell exactly what it was that caused a fracture in the first place.
Next, we are all aware that people often shrink as they age. However, height loss over time is a major red flag in terms of osteoporosis as it indicates a significant loss of bone density in the spine. Above the age of 50, it is advisable to monitor your height at least once a year.
Closely associated is the issue of posture – the development of a stoop is a very powerful indicator of osteoporosis. If you are aware that you are becoming slightly hunched, or somebody comments on your changing posture, it would be sensible to request a bone-density evaluation.
And that leads us to the next indicator – a low bone mineral-density measurement. Anything below a measure of - 2.5 indicates you have the disease. And a higher number that’s close to that level might suggest that the rate at which you are losing bone mass needs to be addressed with the aim of slowing or reversing its decline. A Bone Densitometry (DEXA) scan will measure this for you and can be used to diagnose osteoporosis.
Boosting Vitamin D
Another key indicator is a lack of Vitamin D – the agent that enables your bones to fully unlock the potential of calcium to strengthen your bones. While it’s widely known that Vitamin D is mainly generated in the skin by exposure to sunlight, it is also important to include it in your diet by eating foods like oily fish and eggs or taking supplements.
General aches and pains in your muscles, joints and back might mean nothing at all – but they could also be signs of weak bones. If you suddenly and inexplicably experience weight loss, the potential onset of osteoporosis is one possible cause – again, have it checked out.
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are many treatments available to help prevent fractures and strengthen bones. Speak to a consultant about the right treatment for you.
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