What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis -- by Roman Lester Rosales, Guardian Senior Pharmacist
What is osteoporosis and what are its symptoms?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which bone mass and strength is reduced, causing brittle and fragile bones. It is usually caused by an imbalance between the formation of new bones and the breakdown of old bones.
Often termed the 'silent disease', there may not be any obvious symptoms until it reaches a more advanced stage where it causes pain in the bones or muscles, especially in the lower back area. Loss of height and stooped posture due to spinal compression fractures may also be experienced. The thinning and weakening of bones may also increase the risk of fractures, especially in the hips, spine, or wrists.
Who is at risk and how is it diagnosed?
Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than men. Other risk factors include advanced age, lowered oestrogen and testosterone levels, certain medications, alcohol and cigarette consumption, low calcium intake, and lack of exercise.
A painless, non-invasive screening for osteoporosis is done by measuring bone strength through the bone mineral density test using the DEXA scan. The test may also be able to assess the risk of fractures, and hence, is used to recommend suitable treatment and preventive measures.
What are the treatment options and preventive measures?
Treatment options include medications to either slow down the rate of bone resorption or stimulate new bone formation, depending on the cause found upon diagnosis. These medicines, available only by prescription from a doctor, help to prevent bone loss and lower the risk of bone fractures.
As osteoporosis is largely preventable, it is important to begin by increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin D early. But, before taking any calcium supplements, do consult your healthcare professionals for advice, especially if you are on other long term medications.
Reducing your caffeine intake, consuming alcohol in moderation, and avoiding smoking are some of the lifestyle modifications that can help to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Following a regular exercise regime that includes weight-bearing exercises (e.g. jogging, dancing, stair-climbing) would also help to build stronger bones and maintain bone density.