What is Osteoporosis?
According to the NHS, osteoporosis is a progressive condition “that weakens the bones, making them fragile and more likely to break.” It’s a health condition that develops slowly over many years and can cause severe fractures. It tends to be diagnosed when an individual has had an injury which could occur in the wrist, hip or spine. Age UK states, “there are more than 300,000 fractures every year due to osteoporosis.”
So, taking preventative steps earlier is essential to avoid your bones becoming brittle. This can include exercising, eating a healthy diet of calcium-rich and vitamin D foods and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Risk factors include age (over 50 years old), a low body weight (body mass index (BMI) of 19 or less), taking steroid tablets long-term for conditions such as arthritis or asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis. Age UK also states that the health condition is “more common in women because they have smaller bones and lose oestrogen during menopause.”
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a ‘silent disease’ as “there are typically no symptoms until a bone is broken.” However, there are signs that you should be aware of, including severe back pain, stooped or hunched posture, loss of height and a bone that breaks easily.
If you experience any of these symptoms or are concerned, contact your GP immediately. They can conduct a bone density test to diagnose or assess your risk of osteoporosis. Plus, it’s a quick and painless process.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
There are several medications that your GP can prescribe to help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of bone fracture. These include bisphosphonates, selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), parathyroid hormone and biological medicines.
These medications are prescribed as a tablet, liquid or injection. Your GP will find the most suitable one for you.
Having vitamin supplements is ideal for helping strengthen bones, particularly calcium and vitamin D. The NHS states, “calcium is the main mineral found in bone and having enough calcium as part of a healthy, balanced diet is important for maintaining healthy bones.”
Although you can get calcium from nutritious foods, including vegetables, dried fruit and dairy products, it may still not be enough. Therefore, calcium supplements are recommended for those living with osteoporosis.
According to the NHS, “vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium” and most people can’t get enough vitamin D through sunlight. Good sources of vitamin D include red meat, oily fish, fat spreads and cereals. If you can’t get enough vitamin D in the winter and autumn months or via food, you should consider taking supplements. Make sure you consult your GP before taking supplements.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is a treatment used to help manage symptoms for women living with menopause. The NHS states, “HRT has also been shown to keep bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.” However, if you are already living with the condition, it can also help strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of fractures.
As we all know, the best treatment is prevention; the earlier you start, the better. Exercise is important. According to the NHS, exercise such as cycling or fast walking is recommended. “Weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise are particularly important for improving bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis.”
Exercises including running, walking, dancing and jumping on the spot will help strengthen muscles, ligaments and joints. These exercises benefit older people, so joining a fitness class can be beneficial. Plus, it’s a great social activity too.
Furthermore, eating a varied and balanced diet is also essential, regardless of age. A healthy diet allows you to live independently without worrying about health concerns. Increasing your calcium and vitamin D intake is vital for maintaining healthy bones and you can gain this via foods and supplements. Plus, sun exposure is a great source of vitamin D too. So, try and spend time outdoors in the warmer months.
Other factors, such as quitting smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you consume, can also lower the risk of osteoporosis.
What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker compared to a person your age. Although those with osteopenia have a lower bone density, the NHS states it’s “not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis.” However, this doesn’t mean it will lead to osteoporosis. There are ways to reduce the risk, including diet changes, exercise routines and medication.
Symptoms of Osteopenia
Osteopenia usually has no symptoms and is diagnosed with a bone density test. It is recommended to have one done if you are 50 or older, a woman living with menopause or have easily broken a bone without significant trauma.
The main way people tend to know their bones are weakening is by experiencing a fracture, severe back pain, loss of height or having a hunched posture. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your GP.
Treatment for Osteopenia
Osteopenia tends to be treated by prescribed medication to help with bone health and ensure it doesn’t progress to osteoporosis.
Other ways of treating and preventing the condition are through having a healthy diet and exercise, similar to how osteoporosis is treated. Having a calcium-rich diet and incorporating vitamin D can help maintain your bone health. If you cannot get a sufficient amount of vitamins, you can have supplements that are available at a pharmacy. However, make sure you consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
Keeping active can help too. Go for a brisk walk around the park, dance around the room or jump on the spot. This will help with maintaining strong bones and treat osteopenia.
Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Clinical Manager on May 31, 2023