Osteoporosis diagnosis and treatment


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?

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
  • bone fractures occur much more easily than expected.

If you’ve gone through 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.

What are the causes of osteoporosis?

There are many things that can cause osteoporosis. There are factors you cannot control, such as your sex, age, race, family history, certain medical conditions, and body frame size. The level of hormones in your system also plays a part. Abnormally high or low levels of sex hormones is a factor, as is lowered oestrogen levels in women at menopause

An overactive thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands can lead to osteoporosis. A low calcium intake, eating disorders and gastrointestinal surgery, as well as steroids and oral or injected corticosteroid medications, can cause you to develop osteoporosis.

The type of lifestyle you have can also increase your chances of developing this condition, mainly living a sedentary lifestyle and consuming excessive alcohol and smoking.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

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 for osteoporosis

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.

How to prevent osteoporosis

There are changes that you can make in your day-to-day life to aid in the prevention of osteoporosis, such as:

  • Having a healthier diet that consists of lots of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and whole grains
  • Eat foods that are rich in calcium
  • Getting enough vitamin D
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you consume
  • Limit the amount of caffeine you consume
  • Do regular weight and strength training

How to prevent osteoporosis

Having this condition does not mean that you’re guaranteed to have a fracture, and there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of falling or breaking a bone. Use common sense when moving around, such as looking out for tripping hazards on the ground or in your surroundings, make sure rugs and carpets are secure, and that you have rubber mats in bathrooms and kitchens, and that any tiled or laminate floors surfaces are kept clean and dry. Also, you should make sure you are eating healthy and exercising regularly in order to keep your body and your bones healthy.

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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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