Osteoporosis: a silent disease

Definition

Osteoporosis is a chronic bone disease characterised by a decline in bone density. As a result, bones become more fragile, which causes fractures. The disease is often described as silent and painless, since people with the condition do not suffer pain until they have fractures. The risk of suffering from osteoporosis increases with age and it is particularly common among menopausal women but also among men aged over 65-70 and people taking corticoid treatments. Around one in three post-menopausal women (around the age of 50) are affected. Other symptoms may appear, such as vertebral pain, scoliosis or cyphosis, which are distortions of the spinal column, along with difficulties in carrying out certain everyday movements and as a result, a decline in quality of life.

Osteoporosis

Source: http://www.menox.fr/

Figures

Osteoporosis is viewed as a public health problem. Here are some key figures:

  • Around three million women in France suffer from the condition, i.e. two to three times more women than men.
  • 40% of women are affected, compared with just 8% of men.
  • The disease causes over 130,000 fractures in France every year, and three fractures per minute worldwide.
  • 25% of fractures associated with osteoporosis occur in men.
  • The most common fractures are in the vertebrae, the neck of the femur and the wrist.

Causes

Understanding the disease means first understanding the bony skeleton. The skeleton is continually renewed by cells that destroy old bone (osteoclasts) and cells that make new bone. This process is governed by several factors, such as vitamin D and sex hormones, which regulate the formation of new bones. In the case of osteoporosis, cells make less bone than they destroy.

It is important to distinguish between two forms of osteoporosis, namely primary osteoporosis and secondary osteoporosis, which appears following another disease. The causes of primary osteoporosis include a genetic predisposition, pregnancy, the menopause – particularly early menopause – and aging in men over 70. Secondary osteoporosis can be caused by high doses of cortisone taken over a long period, rheumatic disorders, endocrine disorders or digestive conditions. Other risk factors are tobacco and alcohol consumption, malnutrition, excessive thinness and a lack of physical activity, and vitamin D or calcium deficiencies.

Treatment & prevention

Osteoporosis can have a negative effect on the quality of life of people who have the disease but fractures can be avoided by diagnosing and treating it. Bone densitometry is used to measure bone density. It is important to be aware that a reduction in bone mass is normal as people age but it can be limited by taking preventive measures as early as possible.

A few simple precautions can help to maintain bone mass:

  • Make sure you consume enough calcium, which can be found in dairy products, for example, or water with a high level of calcium. The daily recommended amount is an average of 1,200 mg. It should be higher for young people and slightly lower for adults. Currently, 80% of elderly people do not consume enough. Calcium is important, however, as it helps to build and maintain bones.
  • Make sure you also consume enough vitamin D from sunshine, oily fish, eggs, dairy products and butter, for example. Vitamin D helps to fix calcium to bone.
  • If you are deficient in calcium or vitamin D,  food supplements can help provide you with the recommended amount. Talk to your doctor, who will prescribe the right kind for your condition.
  • Take regular physical exercise, for example: Walk for 30 minutes a day, Take the stairs rather than the lift…
  • Cut down on coffee, alcohol, tobacco and fizzy drinks.

People who suffer from osteoporosis may benefit from a number of treatments. Medicines can strengthen bones and prevent fractures either by stimulating bone formation or by reducing bone destruction. Medicines can be either hormonal or non-hormonal. The first group includes hormone replacement therapy (although its efficacy is disputed since there are high risks of prompting the appearance of other diseases) and SERMS (selective estrogen receptor modulators) to protect bones. Non-hormonal treatments include biphosphonates and strontium ranelate to slow the pace of bone destruction and support new bone formation, and teriparatide, which regulates calcium levels and thus stimulates bone formation.

In all cases, you should consult your doctor, who will decide on the most suitable type of treatment for you. The minimum treatment period is three to six years. It is therefore important take your treatment exactly as required to ensure it is effective over the long term.

Sources: http://www.tout-sur-osteoporose.fr/, http://www.ameli-sante.fr/, http://sante-medecine.journaldesfemmes.com/, http://www.doctissimo.fr/