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Osteoporosis – the ‘silent disease’

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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition whereby the bones in the body become thin and weak, making them more likely to break and fracture. Areas in the body which become most vulnerable tend to be the spine, hips and wrists. Around 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, which in translation means “porous bones“, and many more are thought to have low bone mass, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Muskuloskeletal and Skin Diseases’ (NIAMS’) figures.

Who is at risk?

The vast majority of sufferers are women, most of whom are older. After menopause, oestrogen levels drop. Thereby, the rate at which bone is broken down becomes more prominent than that of bone production, the BBC reports. The risk is even higher for women who go through an early menopause, have their ovaries removed or go for longer than half a year without having a period due to dieting. The UK based Children of the 90s project (welcomed by the National Osteoporosis Society) supports the suggestion that low body weight can lead to osteoporosis.

Genetic factors also play a role in determining bone strength, as does certain medication and an individual’s lifestyle. Heavy drinking, smoking, a diet low in calcium and vitamin D and lack of exercise can all heighten the risk of contracting the illness.

NIAMS also suggests that people of White and Asian descent are more at risk than Black or Hispanic people.

What are the symptoms?

Osteoporosis can go unnoticed for years and often only makes itself known when the sufferer experiences a fall causing bone fracture. It has been called the “silent disease“ because bone is lost with no external signs.

How is it treated?

There are various types of medication available to treat the condition, including hormonal drugs, which stimulate oestrogen production in the body, helping to reduce bone loss. Bisphosphonates are also common and can prevent bone breakdown, according to the BBC.

However, prevention is the key to combatting this disease. Increasing physical activity and eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is advisable. Those already suffering from the condition should take extra care to prevent falls leading to a fracture, which is painful and often very slow to recover.

Some ways falls can be prevented include:

Celebrities suffering from osteoporosis include TV personality Joan Rivers, who has been trying to raise awareness about the condition since her diagnosis. British comedian Bruce Forsyth also joined the campaign.

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