Prof. Moira O’Brien of The Irish Osteoporosis Society speaks with
Rory Halford of Health News Ireland about Osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis means porous bones. It is commonly known as “the silent disease” because there are no signs or symptoms before a person starts to break bones. However, this disease is NOT silent. The effects of undiagnosed/untreated Osteoporosis are devastating.

20% of people aged 60+ who break their hip will die within 6 to 12 months, due to the secondary complications of breaking a bone.

50% of people aged 60+ who break a hip will lose their independence. They will be unable to wash or dress themselves or walk across a room unaided. These statistics are why it is so important that people take responsibility for their bone health and check to see if they are at risk.

Only 15% of people in Ireland are actually diagnosed with bone loss, leaving 280,000 undiagnosed and facing losing their independence.

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being removed and replaced. Bones need normal sex hormones, calcium, vitamin D, adequate calories, proteins and appropriate weight bearing/strengthening exercise to keep them healthy.

As we get older, more bone is naturally lost than is replaced, but people with Osteoporosis lose more bone than people who do not have this disease. Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and therefore they break easily e.g. through a minor bump or fall. A broken bone because of a trip or fall from a standing position, should be considered Osteoporosis, unless proven otherwise.

normal bone vs. osteoporotic bone

Osteoporosis can affect the whole skeleton, but the most common areas to break are the bones in your back, your hip and your forearm. The disease affects all age groups and both sexes – it is not just a female or old person’s disease.

At present it is estimated that 300,000 people in Ireland have Osteoporosis. One in 4 men and 1 in 2 women over 50 will develop a fracture due to Osteoporosis in their lifetime.  The disease can also affect children.

A broken bone from a trip and fall or less is known as: an osteoporotic fracture, a low trauma fracture or a fragility fracture.

If you have one broken bone in your back (also known as an Osteoporosis fracture, a low trauma fracture, a compression fracture, a wedge fracture, vertebral fracture), this doubles your risk of another broken bone (fracture) in your back, usually within 6 to 12 months.

However, broken bones can be prevented in most cases, and is a treatable disease in most people. Early diagnosis is essential for the best results. A DXA scan of your spine and hips is the gold standard for diagnosing Osteoporosis and is highly recommended if you are at risk.

Note: the Irish Osteoporosis Society, who are the national experts in osteoporosis, do not ever recommend scanning of your shin or forearm to screen or diagnosis osteoporosis or recommend treating this disease alternatively.

Signs that a person may have undiagnosed Osteoporosis.

Usually the first sign of Osteoporosis is a fragility (low trauma) fracture e.g. a broken bone due to a trip and fall from a standing position or less.

Symptoms that a person may have undiagnosed Osteoporosis

  • Upper, middle or low back pain, especially if the pain is intermittent
  • Loss of height: It should not be considered normal to lose height as you age
  • Your head protruding forward from your body, your shoulders becoming rounded, the development of a hump on your back and / or a change in body shape (waist appears bigger or a pot belly develops).

Most people have no pain till a fracture occurs, but a very small percentage of people have had back or hip pain, prior to a fracture.

if you experience any of the signs or symptoms above or if you have a risk factor for Osteoporosis, it is essential that you contact us, as there is a significant amount of misinformation out in the public domain.

Please browse our site to read more about Osteoporosis, how it affects you and what you can do to prevent it, improve it and treat it.

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