Osteoporosis involves gradual weakening of your bones over time, making them fragile and more likely to break (fracture). If you have osteoporosis, you'll have lost some of the material (mineral) that makes up your bones. In other words, your bones will have become less dense. You may hear this described as thinning of the bones, having brittle bones or having a reduced bone density.
Osteoporosis affects over 3 million people in the UK and mainly affects older people, but can affect younger adults too.
Osteoporosis is a chronic (long-term) condition that can be managed through medication and preventing fractures.
There are no early symptoms of osteoporosis because you can't feel your bones getting weaker. In fact, osteoporosis is usually only detected when a bone fractures (breaks) following a minor fall or sudden impact. The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are:
Spinal bone fractures may cause back pain, gradual loss of height and a hunched or stooped posture.
You should see your GP if you:
If your GP suspects osteoporosis, they may arrange for you to have a DEXA scan. This is a short, painless procedure that takes about five minutes, depending on the part of the body being scanned. It’s used to find out how much material your bones contain. This information is then used to determine whether you have osteoporosis.
While there are no clear causes of osteoporosis, some people have a greater chance of developing the condition than others. Women are known to lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause. This means that postmenopausal women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if their menopause begins before the age of 45.
Your risk of developing osteoporosis is increased if you're over 65 years (women) or 75 years (men). Other factors include:
Your doctor will consider a number of factors before deciding the best osteoporosis treatment for you. They'll consider your age, sex and the results of your DEXA scan before prescribing medication or recommending lifestyle changes, such as:
Medications for osteoporosis prevent further break down of your bones or build up their strength. It's also important to avoid fractures by preventing falls. Check your home for trip hazards and make sure you have regular sight and hearing tests.