Osteoporosis – The Silent Bone Breaker

We hear so much about Osteoporosis these days. Have you ever wondered whether you are at risk and what you could do if you have Osteoporosis?
Dr Chong Kian Chun, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon from Island Orthopaedic Consultants, a member of Healthway Medical Group, shares his insights about Osteoporosis.

What is Osteoporosis?

If you think Osteoporosis only affects older people, have we got news for you. It can start when you are in your thirties and your bones get weaker gradually without you knowing about it. The nasty thing about Osteoporosis is that most people only discover about it after breaking a bone!

The reality is that our bone density will start decreasing from around the age of 30. There must be a balance between bone tissue loss and bone tissue replacement. This is a natural process that goes on within the body. When the bone tissue replacement is not fast enough, our bones get thinner and weaker. The depletion is silent and you can be clueless about what is happening until your hip, spine or wrist fractures after a minor knock or fall.

Are You at Risk?

It is wise to recognise these risk factors early, get tested and take preventive action. Here are some of the risk factors of Osteoporosis:

  • Women aged 65 years and older
  • Early menopause before age 45
  • History of low-impact injury that resulted in fractures
  • Long-term use of corticosteroids
  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • Suffering from chronic illness – such as thyroid disorders, liver disease or malabsorption (failure to absorb food nutrients)
  • Alcoholism

It is a common misconception that osteoporosis is a disease that will only happen in elderly women. Although it is more common in women over the age of 65, it can affect younger men and women if they have the risk factors.

Why Are Women More Susceptible to Osteoporosis?

Aside to our lady friends, nature has not favoured you in this instance. You tend to have lower bone mass and a smaller frame than men to begin with. That leaves you more vulnerable as your bone density decreases with age. The pace of bone loss hastens after you hit menopause, as your production of Estrogen, the hormone which keeps your bones strong, slows down.

3 Ways to Determine if You Have Osteoporosis

It is advisable to consult your doctor early to have your bone mass checked if you are at a higher risk of Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is treatable and early intervention can decrease the risk of fractures which can affect the quality of your life.

There are several ways to measure bone health:

  1. Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test
    A gold standard for measuring bone quality or bone loss in the hip and lower back spine.
  2. Osteoporosis Self-Assessment Tool for Asians (OSTA)
    OSTA is a reference chart which helps to assess the risk of Osteoporosis by comparing weight to age for Asian women.
  3. X-rays
    X-rays can detect the thinning of bone tissues.

How to Prevent Osteoporosis?

Building healthier and stronger bones should start from childhood. So, parents take note. For the rest of you, it is still not too late. Here are some ways to keep this disease at bay:

1. Good Nutrition

Up your calcium intake to about 800 to 1000mg per day. Rich sources of calcium include:

Vitamin D intake of about 400 IU (10 milligrams) daily. Rich sources of Vitamin D include:

  • Milk and eggs
  • Sunlight


2. Weight-bearing Exercises

Weight-bearing exercises 2-3 times a week for about 30 minutes can keep the disease at bay. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include:

Regular exercises can elevate your general sense of well-being, improve balance, coordination and muscle strength, therefore lowering your risk of falls and injuries.

3. Don’t smoke

4. Avoid drinking alcohol excessively

Treatment and Medication

Eating properly and exercising regularly could save you from painful, disabling and even life-threatening fractures that can result from Osteoporosis.
Being aware of risk factors, getting assessed by a doctor and seeking treatment are crucial in preventing and controlling the disease.

Don’t despair if you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Many drugs such as Bisphosphonates and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) are available to manage the illness. They will either help to slow down the rate of bone loss or to stimulate new bone formation. The choice of drugs will depend on the patient’s medical condition, compliance, the risk of complications and cost of treatment.

 

Contributed by Dr Chong Kian Chun.

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