Going weak in the bones

Osteoporosis, the extreme thinning of bones, gives no warning signals. The best way to prevent it is a regular check up to determine one’s bone mineral density, informs Dr Rajeev K Sharma.

Bone depletion - making one extremely prone to fractures - is a common phenomenon experienced with ageing. But, bone depletion or osteoporosis, as we call it, is a progressive condition and does not develop overnight.

 Yet, it doesn’t give any warning signals while it is progressing and eating away your bones. The worrying aspect is that osteoporosis doesn't cause symptoms until the bones start fracturing. Osteoporosis not only restricts your movement, by making you injury prone, but may also lead to disability or the need for hip joint replacement or knee replacement. 

As we age, bone mass or density is lost. This happens in both, men and women, but it especially aggravates in women after menopause. The bones lose calcium, vitamin D and other minerals and start losing their density. In extreme cases they become abnormally porous and fragile and extremely susceptible to fractures. This extreme condition is described as osteoporosis, which is a major risk factor behind fractures. Both men and women lose their bone density by 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent after 35 years of age. 

Bones naturally start becoming thinner with age as the rate of depletion of the bone outstrips the rate at which new bone is made. The rate of bone depletion again is not the same in every person. Moreover, how early you reach the osteoporosis stage will be inversely proportional to how thick your bones were at 35 years of age. Osteopenia is stage between normal bone density and osteoporosis. It refers to bone density that is lower than normal peak density, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. With further bone loss, osteopenia leads to osteoporosis. If you have successfully detected your thinning bones at the osteopenia stage, remedial measures can be taken to prevent or at least slow down the progression. 

So, how can one keep a check on the health of their bones? By checking their density and knowing exactly how thick or thin their bones are. The bone mineral density (BMD) is the measure of how strong or weak your bones are at that given point of time. BMD measures the density of minerals in your bones, using a special X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan. A bone density test measures how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone. The T-score, as it is called, is your bone density compared to the average peak bone density. 

Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements daily, adopting weight bearing exercises to strengthen your bones and a healthy diet can actually help you prevent osteoporosis and have a safer ageing process. So what’s your T-score?
(The writer is an orthopaedic specialist and joint replacement surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi)

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