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Your Later Life 2020

What are the best ways to manage and treat osteoporosis?

Professor Moira O’Brien

Founder and President, Irish Osteoporosis Society

With €206,305,000 spent treating 3,751 hip fractures in 2018, broken bones should be taken more seriously.

What is osteoporosis? 

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects bone density (quality and strength), resulting in bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture (broken bones), particularly of the hip, spine and wrist.

It is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases worldwide, and research shows that the majority of fractures occur in the moderate to marked osteopenia range.

How can we prevent osteoporosis?

Prevention can begin as far back as in utero. One in four men and one in two women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. It occurs in all age groups; however mature Caucasian females are the highest risk group.

Only 15% of people are diagnosed, which is why everyone should be filling in the risk factor test on the Irish Osteoporosis Society (IOS) website, to check if they have any risk factors for bone loss. 

Why is early detection so important?

Osteoporosis is preventable and treatable in most people. This is why breaking bones should be taken far more seriously.

Considering the secondary effects of fragility fractures (broken bones from a simple fall or less) may cause pain, disability, loss of independence, and premature death.

Ninety per cent of hip fractures are due to osteoporosis. Of those over 60 years of age who fracture their hip, 20% will pass away within 12 months. In 2018, the Irish health system spent €206,305,000, treating 3,751 hip fractures. 

What is the difference between osteoporosis and arthritis?

Osteoporosis and arthritis are two totally different diseases. Confusion can occur due to ‘osteoporosis’ and ‘osteoarthritis’ sounding similar.

Osteoporosis affects bones, has no signs or symptoms prior to fractures, as people cannot feel themselves losing bone. Arthritis has symptoms and affects joints.

How can you manage Osteoporosis?

  • Exercise: Appropriate exercise is important, however, regular sit ups, touching toes while standing or sitting, trampolines, high impact, twisting your spine with your feet planted on the ground, are NOT recommended for those with bone loss. 
  • Nutrition: Calcium, vitamin D and first-class proteins are essential and those with bone loss should be assessed by a registered dietician.
  • Medication:Osteoporosis is a disease and should be treated by medications that have been extensively researched. I would never recommend that people treat this disease alternatively.
  • Monitoring: All causes of bone loss should be investigated and addressed. Repeat DXA scanning should be carried out maximum every two years. For anyone worried about radiation exposure, a DXA scan has 10% radiation of a regular chest X-ray, so a person flying from Dublin to New York has received more radiation than a person having a DXA scan.

The Assess & Address programme schedule will be available on the IOS website and social media channels for those interested in discussing possible issues with a qualified medical professional. The programme allows members of the public to speak with a qualified nurse at select pharmacies nationwide and discuss their risk factors. For further information, please contact the national experts at the Irish Osteoporosis Society Charity to take the one minute risk assessment or call on 01 637 5050 and discuss your risk factors and ways to manage the condition.

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