Brittle Bones? Will Osteoporosis be your fate?
Osteoporosis is more common in the elderly but it can in certain circumstances effect younger people as well. It is a condition where the bones lose their density and become more fragile. Our bones are the strongest and thickest during our late teens and 20’s but by about the age of 35 the density begins to decline. While this happens to everyone, in certain people this happens more quickly than normal as they develop osteoporosis. The main symptoms of this disease are loss of height and a greater risk of a fracture.
Women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than men due to the hormonal changes associated with menopause. Oestrogen is essential to maintain bone density and as levels decline with the menopause this can lead to a more rapid decrease in bone density. The stronger and denser your bones are to start with the better chance you have of avoiding brittle bones as you get older.
The risk of developing osteoporosis increases if you go through the menopause before the age of 45 (early) either naturally or if you have your womb removed – especially if they take your ovaries as well. If during your younger years you do not have a period for more than 6 months either due to diet, an eating disorder or over exercising this can lead to a reduced level of bone density that can have an effect later.
Men can also develop osteoporosis. Although less is known about the cause of this condition in men, it is thought that adequate testosterone levels contribute to bone health. Men do continue to produce testosterone into old age but if the levels are low due to the use of oral steroids, excess alcohol or hypogonadism bone density may be compromised.
Both men and women who have a condition of the glandular (hormone producing) system may be at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. These include hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, reduced oestrogen or progesterone, pituitary gland disorders and overactive parathyroid glands. In these cases, osteoporosis could affect younger people.
Lastly, lifestyle factors are thought to play a role in the loss of bone density. These include:
- a family history of osteoporosis or if one of your parents has a history of hip fracture,
- a body mass index of 19 or less or if you have suffered from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia,
- long term use of oral corticosteroids (as for asthma or arthritis) or if you have Rheumatoid arthritis
- heavy drinking or smoking
- Malabsorption problems such as Coeliac or Crohn’s disease
- long term bedrest or a sedentary life
- certain hormone blocking breast or prostate cancer drugs.
As a general rule women should get a DEXA scan at age 65, and men age 70 and up. Younger women and men ages 50 to 69 should consider the test if they have risk factors for serious bone loss. There are both risks and benefits to this test so make sure you discuss this with your doctor or osteopath if you are unsure if you need to be scanned.