Thinning bones

A degenerative condition where bones thin over time and are more easily broken

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. The condition develops slowly, as people lose bone mass after the age of 35. Post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible. The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are wrist and hip fractures, and fractures of the spinal vertebrae.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of osteoporosis? icon plus

    As bone mass generally decreases slowly, there are no obvious symptoms of onset osteoporosis. However, as the condition progresses you may notice:

    • back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
    • loss of height over time
    • a stooped posture
    • a bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected .

    If you’ve gone through an early menopause, you may experience bone loss earlier than usual. Taking corticosteroids for several months can also contribute.

    Genetics and some lifestyle choices such as sitting down for prolonged periods, consuming too much alcohol and tobacco can also increase your chances of getting osteoporosis.

  • How is osteoporosis diagnosed? icon plus

    Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and help to make a diagnosis. Sometimes, the first symptom of osteoporosis is a fracture, in which case your consultant may suggest the following:

    • CT scan: this enables the consultant to measure bone density and check for fractures in the vertebrae
    • MRI of the spine: this helps the consultant see how recent the fractures might be and decide the best course of action. Recent fractures are more responsive to kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty
    • X-ray: these allow the consultant to see any fractures in the rest of the body such as the hand, wrist, arm, elbow, shoulder, foot, ankle and pelvis.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Bisphosphonates are the standard of care for the treatment of osteoporosis. They stop the bones from breaking down so quickly and come in tablet form or injections.

    Your consultant may also recommend the following procedure for compression fractures caused by osteoporosis:

    • Vertebroplasty is where a special cement mixture is injected through a hollow needle into the fractured bone.
    • Kyphoplasty is where a balloon is inserted through a needle into the fractured bone to create a cavity. Once the balloon is removed, a cement mixture is injected into the cavity. If the spinal canal has narrowed, you may need treatment from a neurosurgeon.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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