Condition: Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes the bones to become brittle and weak, making them more fragile and susceptible to breaks.

Women sitting on bed with back pain from osteoporosis

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What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak, making them fragile enough that even minor bumps, falls or stresses can cause a fracture (break). Osteoporosis-related fractures often occur in the hips, wrists and spine.

It’s a common condition that can affect anyone and risk increases with age. Women are 4 times more likely than men to be affected.

What causes osteoporosis?

Bones are living tissues and are in a constant state of renewal. New bone is formed quickly in childhood and adolescence, with bone density peaking in the mid to late 20s. From then, bone is replaced at the same rate as it’s broken down.

At the age of around 40, bone starts to be broken down more quickly than it’s replaced, causing a loss of bone density. Losing bone density faster than normal can lead to osteoporosis.

Factors that can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:

  • Taking oral steroid tablets for over 3 months
  • Low oestrogen levels due to menopause
  • Certain medical conditions such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer
  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • A lack of weight-bearing exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Heavy drinking
  • Heavy smoking
  • Having a low body mass index (BMI)
  • A history of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

There are no specific symptoms of bone loss, but once the bones are affected by osteoporosis signs of the condition can include:

  • Bones breaking more easily than expected
  • Stooped posture
  • Back pain
  • A loss of height with age

If osteoporosis is suspected, a DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan may be done to measure the density of the bones and make a diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for osteoporosis?

For people with severe osteoporosis, medications may be recommended to slow down bone loss and speed up renewal, to help prevent fractures.

To reduce the risk of a fracture it’s important to remove tripping hazards around the home. Stopping smoking can help reduce the rate of bone loss and cutting back on alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of falls.

If a break does happen, it will need immediate medical attention. Self-care to help with recovery from a fracture includes taking regular painkillers and applying hot and cold therapies.

Osteoporosis Specialists

Our consultants, who are all either heads of service at London teaching hospitals, or have played major roles in clinical innovation, employ their collective expertise, knowledge and deep experience to deliver the best care possible.