What is osteoporosis?
"Osteoporosis" literally means "bones with hole". It occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them. The bones become weaker, increasing the risk of fractures, especially in the hip, spinal vertebrae, and wrist. Bone tissue is constantly being renewed, and new bone replaces old, damaged bone. In this way, the body maintains bone density and the integrity of its crystals and structure. Most people don’t realise they have osteoporosis until a fracture happens, as there are usually no signs or symptoms. This is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis causes no specific pain or symptoms. However, it does increase the risk of serious or debilitating fractures. If you think you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis, see your doctor.
Diagnosis of osteoporosis
If your doctor or osteopath suspects you have osteoporosis, they can make an assessment using an online programme, such as FRAX or Q-Fracture. They may also refer you for a DEXA (DXA) scan to measure your bone mineral density. It's a short, painless procedure that takes about five minutes, depending on the part of the body being scanned.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis, some of which you cannot change, such as being female, and having a direct relative who has had an osteoporotic fracture. Some of the other risks:
Inadequate amounts of dietary calcium
Low vitamin D levels
Alcohol intake of more than two standard drinks per day
Caffeine intake of more than three cups of coffee or equivalent per day
Lack of physical activity
Early menopause (before the age of 45)
Loss of menstrual period if it is associated with reduced production of oestrogen, which is vital for healthy bones (the menstrual cycle can cease following excessive dieting and exercise)
Long-term use of medication such as corticosteroids for rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.