World Osteoporosis Day on 20
October was aimed at promoting awareness of this often overlooked, but
wide-reaching disease that affects the health of your bones.
Your bones are a living,
ever-changing part of your body. Bone growth is easy to see in children as they
grow up and get taller, but many people don’t realise that your bones continue
to change even after you become an adult.
Bone density is a term used to
describe the strength of your bones and it typically increases until your
mid-20s. After your mid-30s, your body begins to experience bone loss and a
decrease in bone density.
Osteoporosis is the disease related
to this bone loss in which bones can become so fragile and brittle that their
risk of breaking increases.
Both men and women are susceptible
to this disease and, once over age 50, one in three women and one in five men
will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Not long ago, osteoporosis was
viewed as an inevitable part of the ageing process. However, modern medicine
and research have led to an improved understanding of the risk factors and
symptoms of this disease and actions that people can take earlier in life to
decrease their risk.
Women are more at risk than men as
they generally have smaller bones. Women are also at increased risk after menopause
as they lose the protective effect of oestrogen.
Other risk factors include
increasing age, family history, Caucasian race, corticosteroid use, smoking,
excessive alcohol consumption and thin frame. Other conditions, such as thyroid
or parathyroid dysfunction, can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a painless disease
until a bone breaks. The bones most frequently broken are the bones of the
spine, wrist or hip.
Signs of spine fractures include a
decrease in height, back pain or a stooped back.
Ideally prevention is the key and a
simple bone density test on a bone densitometer can help identify those at risk
for bone breakages. If you are over 65 years old or have had a fracture not
caused by excessive trauma, you should have this test performed.
If you are found to have low bone
density, laboratory tests can be done to try to determine the cause, which
could be low calcium or vitamin D levels, thyroid or parathyroid dysfunction or
in men, low testosterone levels.
Weight-bearing exercise, such as
weight lifting or simply walking, is an effective way to build bone
Secondly, people should make sure
that they have recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D in their diet, or
through a dietary supplement, to ensure bone strength.
Dr. Diane Hislop-Chestnut is an
internist and certified clinical densitometrist based in the Cayman Islands.