Osteoporosis thins and weakens bones – how can we reduce the risk?

Osteoporosis is one of the most common ailments troubling women. Research suggests that about one in two women over 60 years will experience at least one fracture due to osteoporosis. Here’s all you need to know about osteoporosis from our online doctor Hana Patel.

Every year in the UK, more than half a million people are treated in hospitals due to a bone break after falling a distance less than their height. This break is also known as a ‘fragility fracture’ and is due to a condition called osteoporosis. Patients I see commonly discover that they suffer from osteoporosis after their first fragility fracture. Bone loss and replacement is a natural process that occurs. However, in osteoporosis, new bone is not made as quickly as the bone it replaces, leading to weaker and fragile new bone that is easier to break.

Who does it affect?

Osteoporosis affects 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50, causing fractures. Women are more affected than men because they tend to have smaller bones, and after menopause, there is a reduction in the hormone oestrogen, which leads to increased bone loss.

How can it be prevented?

Patients often ask what they can do to prevent osteoporosis, but as with many medical conditions, several factors can lead to weak bones. For example, some people have a family history of osteoporosis, and as osteoporosis does not cause symptoms, it may be that a parent may have fractured a hip. Other factors are low body weight, certain medications such as taking high dose steroids for more than three months, certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism and Crohn’s disease.

Lifestyle changes:

Patients often ask if they can do anything to help reduce their risk of osteoporosis, and there are protective lifestyle changes. For example, evidence from research demonstrates how both smoking and regularly drinking too much alcohol can lead to bone loss and increase the risk of a broken bone. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for giving bones their strength and structure. As we get older, our body does not absorb calcium as well. Foods that contain calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt and calcium-enriched soy products, leafy green vegetables and dried fruit. If you think you are not getting enough calcium from foods, you may need to take a calcium supplement, and I would recommend speaking to your GP about this if you have concerns.

Exercise can protect bones, strengthen muscles, and improve balance, particularly in weight-bearing activities like brisk walking, dancing, and running. I recommend patients to look at the NHS website about being more active, stopping smoking, reducing excessive alcohol and ensuring that calcium and vitamin D levels are within normal limits, which can all help.

No symptoms, but there may be signs

Whilst there are no symptoms of osteoporosis, there are signs that can suggest a concern, such as severe back pain, the spine becoming curved and a loss of height. If you are concerned about osteoporosis, please discuss your concerns with your general practitioner and make an appointment to see them today.

DR HANA PATEL

Dr Hana Patel BSc MBBS FRCGP MSc (Med Ed) ILM7

NHS and Private Senior General Practitioner (FRCGP) https://www.topdoctors.co.uk/doctor/hana-patel (for remote consultations)

You can read more articles from our resident in-house medic, Dr Hana Patel, here