Osteoporosis, also called “brittle bone disease,” is a condition in which bones gradually lose their calcium content. The bones lose density, which makes them more fragile and easily compressed. The result is an increased risk of fractured or crushed bones.
In Singapore, the number of osteoporosis – related hip fractures in women over 50 years is 8 times more than that of breast cancer cases. Fortunately, with proper prevention, stabilising techniques, and medication, osteoporosis can be halted or slowed down – and in some cases reversed. The information in this article also applies to osteopaenia, an early step on the path to full-blown osteoporosis. The bones have become less dense, but the likelihood of breakage is less than with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can affect most bones, but the spine, hips, ribs and wrists are the most common sites for fractures. There are no warning symptoms, so the condition is often not diagnosed until something breaks. Over the years, repeated compression fractures of the vertebrae can lead to chronic low-back pain, loss of height, and an abnormal curvature of the upper spine, often called a “Dowager’s Hump”.
What Causes Loss of Bone Density?
Bone is laid down early in life, but bone-building stops around the age of 25 and it stays at the same density until about 35. Thereafter, 0.4 percent of bone density is lost each year as part of the normal aging process. This happens because bone is a living, dynamic structure in which calcium is constantly borrowed from bones to maintain levels of calcium in the blood, then returned to build new bone. Osteoporosis results when the rate at which calcium is taken from bone is greater that the rate at which it is returned.
Throughout life eating the right diet and getting enough exercise and sunshine can prevent and slow loss of bone density.
Figuring Out What’s Wrong
The suspicion that you have reduced bone-density often only arises after you start to experience back pain or you suffer a fracture from a minor injury. In this case, your doctor is likely to recommend a bone-mineral density (BMD) test – a non-invasive out-patient procedure that shows if your bones have become weakened. The results are compared with those of a young adult of the same sex and ethnicity and given a “T” score.
Testing is advised for groups at special risk, such as:
- people over 65
- those who are thin
- those who have rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic inflammatory conditions
- those who have a diet low in vitamin D or calcium
- those who have not exercised regularly over many years
A range of drugs can be used to treat osteoporosis.