Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterised by the loss of bone density and thinning of the bones. It is sometimes known as “brittle bone disease” as it causes the bones to become brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease as it does not generally have any symptoms. People are often not aware that they have osteoporosis until they suffer a bone fracture. Fractures may occur due to a fall or other accident, or they may happen spontaneously e.g. the bones become so weak that the hip breaks while carrying out ordinary day to day activities. Bones can even fracture without the person realising it at the time.
Osteoporosis is most common in post-menopausal women, affecting about 1 in 3 women over 50 although about 1 in 12 men over the age of 50 also develop osteoporosis. As we age, the quality and strength of our bones deteriorate. Some people’s bones deteriorate faster than others due to genetic and lifestyle factors. Men are generally less affected as they tend to build stronger, more dense bones when they are younger, giving them a greater “reserve” of bone to draw down on as they age.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of osteoporosis:
- Ensure that your diet contains plenty of calcium. For most people, dairy products are the main source of calcium in the diet although if are unable to take dairy products, sardines and kidney beans are good sources. If you are worried about not getting enough calcium in your diet there are a range of calcium supplements available. It is generally best to get one that also contains vitamin D which encourages the absorption of calcium and helps it get taken up into the bones. Ask your pharmacist for more advice on what supplements would be best for you.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking greatly increases the risk of osteoporosis. If you find it difficult to quit smoking, a range of smoking cessation products are available over the counter in pharmacies and on prescription.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Get plenty of exercise. Weight bearing exercises such as walking, jogging or step aerobics are especially useful. The impact of the weight and the pull of the muscle stimulates the bones to develop extra strength and density.
- Find out how dense your bones are and if you at risk. The McCabe’s branches in Pavillions Shopping Centre, Swords and Dundrum Shopping Centre offer a quick, painless bone-density test. This is especially important if you have a family history of osteoporosis or if are unable to follow the lifestyle advice above.
Some medications can also increase the risk of osteoporosis. You should not stop taking any prescribed medication, but you should have your bone density checked periodically. Bone thinning medications include steroids, methotrexate, lithium and phenytoin.
There are a range of treatments available to treat and prevent osteoporosis. Although in the past hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was used to prevent osteoporosis in women, it is no longer recommended for this purpose as safer and more effective medications are available. In general, if you have been prescribed medication for osteoporosis, you should also be taking extra calcium supplements.