What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a chronic disease in which the bones progressively lose some of their calcium and other minerals, and therefore become brittle and fragile. People with advanced osteoporosis may suffer spontaneous fractures, especially of the vertebrae (the bones of the spinal column). The spine becomes compressed, leading to shortened height and a deformed back kyphosis (the so-called dowager’s hump). Fractures around the hip are also common.
What causes Osteoporosis?
With ageing, almost everyone experiences some loss of bone mass, but incidences of severe osteoporosis are more common among women than men. Asian and white Caucasian women who are fine-boned are more vulnerable than Afro-Caribbean women, who tend to have heavier bones. The underlying causes of osteoporosis are poorly understood. It is known that after the age of 35, the body creates less new bone and is less efficient in absorbing and storing calcium, resulting in the loss of about 1% of bone mass every year. Women are more likely to be affected as they have about 30% less bone mass than men. Estrogen seems to be important in female bone metabolism because women lose bone mass at an accelerated rate during the first 5-10 years after the menopause. Other factors that contribute to osteoporosis include smoking, heavy alcohol use, and inactivity. People who are bedridden lose bone mass at an even higher rate than postmenopausal women.
- Loss of height and development of a dowager’s hump
- Fragile bones that break easily or spontaneously in severe cases
How is Osteoporosis diagnosed?
X-rays and other tests to check bone density may be performed if you are in a high-risk group. Treatment may stop the progression of osteoporosis but cannot usually repair the damage already done.