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Osteoporosis – What you need to know

From DEXA scans to exercise, we answer some common questions about osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis – What you need to know

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone mass, decreased bone mineral density, or general changes in bone structure. 3 million people are affected by osteoporosis in the UK alone, resulting in over 500,000 fractures annually.1

As a silent disease, osteoporosis has few early symptoms and warning signs. Most people are not diagnosed until after they have already experienced a fracture.

Understanding the causes and risk factors for osteoporosis can help you act earlier and reduce your chances of developing the disease.

 

Is osteopenia the same as osteoporosis?

No, while they are similar, osteoporosis and osteopenia are different.

Osteopenia is the stage before osteoporosis, where your bone density is below average, but not yet osteoporotic.

Osteopenia is generally seen as the first step towards osteoporosis; however, this is not always the case. Making small changes to your diet, lifestyle and some treatment options are all ways to help prevent osteoporosis

Who does osteoporosis affect?

While osteoporosis can affect anyone, there are a few risk factors you can look out for.

Age : Osteoporosis is strongly correlated with age.

Our bones are constantly being broken down and replaced with new bone. From around the age of 30, the rate you produce bone decreases, and the rate you lose bone increases. Overtime, this increases your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Sex: Due to lower overall bone mass, smaller bones, and hormonal changes during menopause, being of the female sex significantly increases your risk of osteoporosis. 50% of women over the age of 50 develop osteoporosis, in comparison to 20% of men.2

Hormone Level Changes: Oestrogen and progesterone are the two main hormones responsible for maintaining your bones. When oestrogen and progesterone levels fall during perimenopause and menopause, so does bone density.

Family History: Osteoporosis often runs in families.

Recent studies show genetics play a big role in bone strength and density, meaning you can be biologically predisposed to osteoporosis.3

Other Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can increase the risk of osteoporosis. These include eating disorders, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, cancer, and hormonal diseases.

Long-term use of some medications, such as certain steroid medications, can contribute towards bone loss. You can find more information about some of the risk factors for osteoporosis on the NHS website.

Lifestyle: Many other factors can contribute towards bone loss, including heavy drinking, smoking, and a lack of exercise. Not getting enough calcium, protein, Vitamin D and other important bone health nutrients in your diet can further increase the risk of osteoporosis.

 

Check your osteoporosis risk today using the Royal Osteoporosis Society risk checker.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

Although most people do not display any early symptoms of osteoporosis, there are a few warning signs to watch out for.

These include:

  • Reoccurring pain in your muscles/ bones,
  • Poor posture (Known as kyphosis)
  • Severe back pain.
  • Bones which fracture easily (especially from falls from a standing height)

If you have any concerns, make sure to speak with your doctor or GP.

 

 

 

A montage of blue X-rays A montage of blue X-rays A montage of blue X-rays

How is Osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed using a DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan.

The DEXA scan uses a low-level of radiation to measure your bone density. Scans typically focus on commonly fractured areas, such as the hips and spine.

If your bone density is shown to be significantly lower than that of an average, healthy person, you will be diagnosed with osteoporosis.

 

Find out more about getting a DEXA scan

What can I do to protect my bones?

 

From treatments to lifestyle changes, there’s lots you can do to look after your bones:

Lifestyle changes:

Diet and Nutrition:

People often underestimate the impact of diet and nutrition on their bone health. Eating a balanced and varied diet containing key minerals such as calcium and vitamin D is one important way to protect your bone health.4 Other important minerals include vitamin K and magnesium.

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with more poorer bone health.5 As well as interfering with the balance of vitamin D and calcium, heavy drinking can result in hormone deficiencies in both men and women.

Exercise:

Bones get stronger the more we use them. When you exercise, you give your bones work to do. Regularly stimulating your bones has been proven to increase the rate at which you produce new bone.6

Research has found weight-bearing exercises to be most effective as these exercises give your bones the impacts they need to become sufficiently stimulated.

Exercising regularly can also help increase your muscle mass and balance, reducing your risk of falls.

Smoking: Smoking has been shown to affect your metabolism and impact the way your body absorbs critical minerals. Overtime, this can contribute to poorer bone health.

 

Vibration therapy:

Scientists have been studying the health benefits of vibrations for over 35 years.

They discovered precisely calibrated, Low-intensity vibrations (LiV) can have a positive impact on your bone and muscle health. By stimulating the cells in your bones and muscle, LiV is a safe and effective way to improve your bone health. 7

Not all vibration therapy is the same. Make sure to check the intensity of a device first, as some high-intensity vibration devices do have contraindications which can make them unsafe for some users, including those with osteoporosis. The Marodyne LiV device has no known contraindications or side effects.

Find out more about Low-intensity Vibration therapy

Living with osteoporosis

Being diagnosed with osteoporosis can be a shock, but it isn’t a life sentence and doesn’t mean you’ll definitely suffer a fracture.

Taking measures to reduce your risk of falls can help you to live well with osteoporosis. The NHS recommend checking your home for any tripping hazards and having regular hearing and eye tests.

You can find more tips for living with osteoporosis on the NHS website.

 

Remember, to always talk to your doctor about concerns you have with your bone health.

The specialist nurses at the Royal Osteoporosis Society also offer a free helpline and email service.

References

1. Age UK. (2022). Osteoporosis. https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/osteoporosis/

2. Royal Osteoporosis Society. (2023). International Women’s Day: Let’s end the ageist stereotypes that fuel the most insidious women’s health condition. https://theros.org.uk/latest-news/international-women-s-day-let-s-end-the-ageist-stereotypes-that-fuel-the-most-insidious-women-s-health-condition/

3. Peris, P., Monegal, A., Mäkitie, R. E., Guañabens, N., & Gonzalez-Roca, E. (2023). Osteoporosis related to WNT1 variants: a not infrequent cause of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International, 34(2), 405-411. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00198-022-06609-2

4. Levis, S., & Lagari, V. S. (2012). The role of diet in osteoporosis prevention and management. Current osteoporosis reports, 10, 296-302. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11914-012-0119-y

5. Godos, J., Giampieri, F., Chisari, E., Micek, A., Paladino, N., Forbes-Hernández, T. Y., … & Grosso, G. (2022). Alcohol consumption, bone mineral density, and risk of osteoporotic fractures: a dose–response meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), 1515. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031515

6. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health#:~:text=Weight%2Dbearing%20and%20resistance%20exercises,weights%20%E2%80%93%20can%20also%20strengthen%20bones.

7. Rajapakse, C. S., Johncola, A. J., Batzdorf, A. S., Jones, B. C., Al Mukaddam, M., Sexton, K., … & Wehrli, F. W. (2021). Effect of low‐intensity vibration on bone strength, microstructure, and adiposity in pre‐osteoporotic postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo‐controlled trial. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 36(4), 673-684. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbmr.4229

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