Osteoporosis: All You Must Know About This Condition

Women, especially those beyond the age of 50, are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis compared to other illnesses. It is not fatal but will negatively impact your health.

By Dr Gurinder Bedi

Osteoporosis: All You Must Know About This Condition

Osteoporosis is a condition marked by overall weakness in the strength of the bones with a propensity to get fractures even with minimal trauma or falls. This disease can have far-reaching consequences ranging from being bedridden to relying on a wheelchair to move around.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), osteoporosis is second only to cardiovascular disease as a global health problem. As far as India is concerned, it has 250 million people beyond the age of 50 years out of which 50 million have a low bone density (Osteopenia or Osteoporosis). 

Osteoporosis in women

Osteoporosis is more prevalent in women than in men. In fact, eighty per cent of those affected with osteoporosis are women. Also, it is seen more in postmenopausal women. Going by statistics, the number of women suffering from osteoporosis is estimated to be 20 per cent of the population beyond the age of 50. And, 80 per cent of women over the age of 65 have this condition. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 will experience osteoporotic fracture and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will have a similar episode.

Osteoporosis is a silent killer

Osteoporosis is also known as a silent disease and occasionally a silent killer. This is because the condition can be diagnosed only after an individual has a fracture, which signifies that the patient has a severe category of this disease. In fact, many people who get an X-ray for a backache (not as a result of a fall or an injury) are noted to have compression fractures of the vertebral column. There are also instances of a wrist or hip fracture after a minimal fall. All these are indications of osteoporosis.

The main aim should be to identify people in the milder category, which is referred to as Osteopenia, to start treatment. The diagnosis is based on the measurement of bone densitometry by DEXA scan (used to measure bone mineral density). Ideally, all postmenopausal women with a high risk should have early DEXA scan and all women older than 65 should have it done routinely.

Osteoporosis: Symptoms and Causes

Initially, a person suffering from osteoporosis will experience dull aches and pains in various parts of the body, which get worse with activity. This causes a marked reduction in overall mobility. There is also a loss of height of the patient or the presence of a hunched back. The person also experiences microfractures and there is a collapse in the overall architecture of the bone.

Women are more vulnerable as far as osteoporosis is concerned due to a decline in bone density. This is because they indulge in less physical activity, especially during their early childhood years. Also, during menopause, the protective effect of oestrogen gets reduced. This contributes to the rapid decline in bone density.

Some drugs too can make a person prone to osteoporosis. These include prolonged steroid intake, antiepileptic medication, drinking excessive alcohol and smoking.

Which foods are helpful?

Foods rich in calcium such as dairy products are helpful in avoiding bone weakness. Other foods such as green leafy vegetables like broccoli, turnip greens, and nuts are good sources of calcium. Sunlight remains the best source of vitamin D and a few minutes of sunlight in the early morning can help.

Osteoporosis: How to prevent

Some ways to prevent this condition in women include:

  • Intake of calcium up to 1,000 to 1,200 mg/ day and vitamin D supplementation of 1,000 to 1,500 IU units/day
  • Incorporation of protein in the daily diet
  • Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and indulging in a regular physical activity
  • Avoiding certain medication for a prolonged duration such as steroids, cancer drugs, antidepressants, and gastritis medicine
  • Being extra careful, if there is a previous history of fractures or a family history of fractures

There are a number of drugs which are available for treatment of this condition, but it is a prolonged therapy and needs to be followed rigorously to have any effect. Medication along with physical therapy and weight-bearing exercises is what makes the treatment of osteoporosis effective.

The author is Director, Orthopedics at a leading hospital in Delhi. 

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