Osteoporosis: What You Need to Know

Osteoporosis: What You Need to Know

20 October 2023

World Osteoporosis Day is marked on 20 October every year. To mark this day, we’re sharing some facts and stats on this disease.

In South Africa, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will possibly develop this disease within their lifetime – which means that between 4 and 6 million South Africans suffer from osteoporosis. Have we got your attention?

What’s osteoporosis?

The inside of a healthy bone, similar to a honeycomb, has small spaces. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. As a result, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner. Bones become so weak and brittle that a fall, or even mild stresses such as coughing or bending over, can cause a fracture.

Osteoporosis can significantly impact your quality of life and can even cause death.

Why’s it so dangerous?

The great risk with osteoporosis is fracturing your hip. Shockingly, 10% of hip fracture patients die within 30 days, while 30% die within a year. The fracture itself rarely proves fatal, but as patients are often frail, complications such as pneumonia, blood clots, bedsores and post-operative infections are common and can lead to death.

Surely, this disease only affects the elderly?

Not necessarily. Truth is, although age is a major risk factor, osteoporosis can affect younger people too. Genes play a huge role in determining bone strength. In fact, approximately 80% of our bone health is inherited from our parents and has nothing to do with age.

What are the risk factors?

  • Throughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and grows new bone. However, when you’re in your 30s, your body starts breaking down bone faster than it’s able to replace.
  • A family history of osteoporosis.
  • Women are particularly vulnerable. Women have weaker bones, to begin with, and experience a rapid period of bone loss after menopause.
  • Lack of calcium. People who avoid calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, could be vulnerable.
  • Low body weight, heavy smoking or excessive alcohol consumption could put you at risk.
  • Lack of vitamin D raises the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures by up to 60%.
  • Medical conditions such as Crohn’s or Coeliac disease, which affects the absorption of foods and nutrients, could significantly put you at risk.
  • Steroids – often prescribed for asthma and arthritis – inhibit bone formation and accelerate bone loss.

What are the symptoms?

Because osteoporosis is usually asymptomatic, it can sneak up on you until you actually break a bone. For this reason, it’s often called a “silent” disease. There are signs and symptoms that can appear once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis. These include:

  • Losing a centimetre or more of your height.
  • Changes in your natural posture (stooping or bending forward more).
  • Shortness of breath (if disks in your spine are compressed enough to reduce your lung capacity).
  • Lower back pain (pain in your lumbar spine).

If you think that you might be at risk, discuss your concerns with your GP sooner rather than later. He/she will assess your medical history and may decide to send you for a non-invasive bone density scan.

Osteoporosis is not an unavoidable threat. Although bone loss can be accelerated by conditions out of your control, there’s a lot that you can do to fight this disease.

Lifestyle changes and medical treatment are part of a total program in the fight against Osteoporosis. A diet rich in calcium, daily exercise, and drug therapy are treatment options.

Make bone health a priority today and reap the benefits for decades to come.

Source: worldosteoporosisday.org, osteoporosis.org.za, womanshealthmag.com, shape.com, healthline.com, dailymail.co.uk, mayoclinic.org, rwjbh.org

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

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