Osteoporosis – could it happen to me?

Posted on 11 December 2012

Osteoporosis is not confined to the elderly anymore. Here, our experts answer your questions about this disease.

When I broke my wrist in a minor fall over my dog I was told I had osteoporosis. I thought this was something only 55-year-old women were likely to get?
Although most common in post-menopausal women, osteoporosis is not only an old woman’s disease, nor is it an inevitability of ageing.  A disease that eats away at your bone mass, it can happen to anyone. The bad news is that without a test you don’t see or feel it coming, which is why it’s known as ‘the silent crippler’.

The good news is that now you have discovered it, it can be treated, although like all illnesses it is better prevented than cured.

Why would my bones have broken so easily?
Spontaneous fracture or vulnerability to fracture happens when your bones are weak and fragile as a result of osteoporosis. Literally meaning ‘porous bones’, osteoporosis causes a loss of the density and strength of your bones. It’s a breaking down of their tissue and micro-architecture, which makes them frail or brittle, which is why they break more easily.  The wrist is a common place to break as are your hips, spine and pelvis. One can also develop a distinctive stoop which is known as a ‘dowager’s hump’.

How common is it?
Osteoporosis is a problem across the world, but especially in the urbanised developed world where people are living longer. But it’s only more recently been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a priority health issue.

Who is at risk?
Women over 50 have a 33% chance of developing osteoporosis, and by the age of 70 that increases to 50%. One in five men is also at risk.  If you’re white, Asian or of mixed race, the risk is significantly higher than if you are black. If you are small framed, a smoker, drinker, get little exercise and eat badly, the stakes are raised higher still.

What can I do now?
Once osteoporosis has taken a hold, your bone loss can never be completely restored. But doctors can repair breaks and fractures, stimulate regrowth and prevent further loss through medication. Bone resorption inhibitors prevent more loss and antiresorptives stimulate new bone growth. You can also help yourself by making positive changes to your lifestyle and diet.

Published in Orthopaedics

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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