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Osteoporosis treatment, causes and prevention as World Osteoporosis Day calls on people to “Love Your Bones”

World Osteoporosis Day falls this week (October 20), providing a timely reminder for people to think about bone health and how we can take care of our body’s infrastructure.

Losing strength in our bones is a normal part of ageing but some of us lose bone density much faster than normal and this can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to be more fragile and more prone to breaking.

Osteoporosis affects more than three million people in Britain and half a million people require hospital treatment each year for fractures caused by it.

Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis as they can lose bone strength rapidly in the first five after starting the menopause. One of the benefits of taking HRT early in the menopause is that it can help to prevent bone loss.

Osteoporosis in itself isn’t painful and develops slowly, often only being diagnosed when sufferers fall or have an accident that causes a bone to break. As the bones are weaker in osteoporosis, sometimes only a minor injury can have devastating results. The wrists, hips and spine are the most common areas for broken bones.

There are other factors, besides age, that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. It is more common if someone in your family suffers from osteoporosis and lifestyle factors such as having a low body mass index (BMI), being a heavy drinker or smoker can also increase your risks.

In some cases, medication for other illnesses can cause a loss of bone density. For example, use of corticosteroids (steroids) has been linked osteoporosis.

World Osteoporosis Day, organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation, is aimed at increasing awareness of the condition. In the past, it has highlighted some startling statistics, including that over 200 million people worldwide are affected.

They also say that as many as one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Life changing

Equally worrying is the effect on people’s quality of life that a broken bone, such as a broken hip, can have. Hip fractures can be truly life changing.

Patients who struggle to mobilise after their hip fractures may find they lose their independence, and admissions to nursing and residential homes are common after these traumatic injuries. More alarmingly, we know that patients have an increased risk of mortality after hip fractures.

As with everything, prevention is so much easier than a cure and there are steps we can take to try and keep our bones healthy.

Eating healthily and including foods in your diet that are rich in calcium and vitamin D can help.  These include dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurts, and green vegetables. Vitamin D supplements are now recommended for most people over the winter months and can also help in reducing the risk and impact of osteoporosis.

Regular weight bearing exercises, even something as simple as walking, can help to maintain healthy joints and bones.

If you have concerns about your bone health, talk to your GP who can discuss any risk factors you may have and how you can help to protect your bones.

Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service. Visit www.pharmacy2u.co.uk/onlinedoctor/ for further information.