Tackling the 'silent thief'

Last Updated 09 July 2010, 10:29 IST

What is osteoporosis?

When your bones turn brittle and start to become like powder, the condition is called osteoporosis. This makes bones susceptible to fractures. The condition mainly occurs in the spinal cord, forearm and wrist. Osteoporosis is called a “silent thief”, because the deterioration of the bone takes place with no obvious symptoms. Patients with osteoporosis may be severely handicapped by the pain caused, leaving them unable to perform even daily chores. Fear of falling may make them inactive and homebound.

What causes osteoporosis and who is at risk?

The specific cause is not known. The condition is mainly found in women — small  built, thin frame and ageing.  Early or surgically induced menopause, low dietary calcium, Vitamin D deficiency, heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, heavy caffeine intake, long-term steroid usage have been found to have related links to osteoporosis.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed by evaluating the patient’s medical history and lifestyle, and by measuring bone mineral density. Bone mineral density (BMD) is measured using the  DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray absorptiometry) test, which is an imaging technique for measuring the amount of bone loss. Ultrasound Bone Mineral Density (US-BMD) is a screening test which helps to identify those at risk, while DEXA is a specific test for diagnosis.

How is osteoporosis treated?

Early diagnosis and treatment is the best approach to preserve bone mass. Medical therapy that slows bone loss and decreases the risk of fracture are currently available. Though early detection and timely treatment of osteoporosis can substantially decrease the risk of future fractures, none of the available treatments can cure the patient completely. It is difficult to completely rebuild the human bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis. Therefore, prevention of osteoporosis is as important as treatment.
What are the preventive measures?

Inactivity can play the role of a catalyst in the process of bone loss along with poor dietary calcium intake. A comprehensive exercise programme is important for increasing muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, bone health, balance and stability. Improving body mechanics and posture also helps. Remember to take adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D.

What is the relationship between diabetes and osteoporosis?

Women with diabetes are at an increased risk of osteoporosis, especially when they enter menopause. Diabetes of long standing duration makes them lose the nutrients necessary for building bone mass. Deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis. Menopause along with Vitamin D deficiency can accelerate bone loss and osteoporosis.

(Published 09 July 2010, 10:27 IST)

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