Osteoporosis, the condition of bone loss or wasting that can lead to fractures (broken bones), was once thought to be untreatable. This condition, which mainly affects older people, especially women, is increasingly common as we live longer and longer – it can be said to be “inevitable if we live long enough” and this is close to the truth. At 75 years of age some 75% of people have osteoporosis (severity varies). Happily much can be done. Here are some major treatment options:
- Exercise is essential, especially weight bearing exercise (walking is excellent) or resistance exercise (weights).
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) improves bone strength quite significantly (as well as having other benefits in heart disease, sexuality, and mood). HRT consists of hormones containing oestrogen — alone, or in combination with another hormone, progesterone — and are commonly used to counteract the effects of menopause or “change of life.” Replacement therapies can be taken in several ways, including orally or through a patch on the skin.
- Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are recommended since Calcium is the key mineral in bone formation and Vitamin D is essential in the absorption of Calcium.
- Advanced medications such as alendronate (Fosamax) inhibit bone loss and can make a major difference. These drugs are probably under-used, given the significant benefits they offer. This is a specialist area so seeing a genuine medical expert is advised, so you get the best up-to-date advice.
- Calcitonin is a hormone that inhibits bone loss and can be useful.
If a person sustains a fracture (broken bone) as a result of osteoporosis it will often heal very poorly and so surgery is commonly required. The most common osteoporotic fractures are:
- Wrist: Usually sustained from a fall (outstretched hand) and usually requires surgery to heal.
- Hip: The most notorious fracture of all and usually sustained from a fall. This invariably needs surgery, most often a hip replacement.
- Spine: These are usually “compression fractures” where the vertebrae that make up the spine become so weak that they are crushed by the body’s own weight, or by a minor fall. These can be very painful but cannot normally be operated on.
There are many treatment options and it is essential that you discuss the choices with your doctor, especially if you are an older woman approaching or in your menopause. Whatever you do, do not do nothing: Treatment helps, so start by asking your family doctor.