We are all familiar with frailty, broken bones, loss of height and the curved back that are often regarded as a normal part of ageing. We now know that in fact these are symptoms of a disease called Osteoporosis which can be prevented if steps are taken earlier in life. If allowed to progress without treatment, Osteoporosis is one of the leading causes of suffering by pain, deformity and disability and death in elderly people and sometimes the not so elderly. Fortunately there have been important breakthroughs in its diagnosis and treatment and increased awareness among the public and health care professionals.
Osteoporosis means porosity or thinning of the bones, whatever the cause. Bone loss with ageing is a worldwide problem and it becomes a disease when the bone mass falls to a level at which a break or fracture is likely to occur.
Our bones are normally strong and only break when there is severe trauma or injury. With the ageing process and with certain diseases the bones become thinner and more fragile so they break much more easily and these fragility fractures are indicative of Osteoporosis and are common in the wrist, spine and hip.
Fracture risk rises steeply with age and by age 80 years one woman in three and one man in five can expect to have a hip fracture or spinal fractures. At the age of 50 years, a woman has a 40 per cent chance of having a fracture caused by Osteoporosis during the rest of her life, and the risk for a man is about 13 per cent.
Osteoporosis can occur at any age, and can affect men as well as women but is most common in elderly women. The frequency of Osteoporosis varies in different parts of the world being more common in Western Europe and the USA, and affecting white Europeans and Asians more than black populations.
As osteoporosis is a preventable condition it is important to make a diagnosis as early as possible. In practice this means detecting low bone mass before a fracture occurs. There are several different methods used to measure bone mass but the most widely used and most accurate is Dual Energy Xray Absorptiometry (DXA) Scan. These bone mass measurements are usually made in the areas that are most at risk of facture eg. the spine and hips.
Take a look at some of the Common Questions around Osteoporosis.