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Osteoporosis – The Silent Disease

03 March 2015

Osteoporosis is a relatively common disorder caused by weakened bones which can lead to fractures. One in two women and one in five men, aged 50 years and over, will suffer at least one fragility fracture which is a type of fracture that occurs as a result of normal activities, such as a fall from standing height or less. The condition is responsible for approximately 200,000 fractures every year in England alone, with a cost to the NHS estimated at around £2.7 billion.

Osteoporosis is often labelled the ‘silent disease’ because there are no early symptoms and the effects can be devastating. The first time a patient may be aware that they have the condition is when they develop a fracture, often at the wrist, spine or hip. Other types of osteoporotic fragility fracture include upper arm (humerus), rib fractures and pelvic fractures. Hip fractures are the most serious of all these fractures. Often patients after a hip fracture lose their ability to live independently and require long term residential/nursing home care. Fractures of the spine are also associated with chronic back pain which can often be severe and debilitating.

Screening

Who should be screened for osteoporosis? If you are 50 years of age and above and have had a low trauma fracture of the wrist, hip, spine, upper arm (humerus), rib or pelvis then you should be screened. Other criteria for screening include a strong family history, long-term oral steroid use, early menopause (before age 45 years), low-body weight particularly with irregular or absent periods, history of excess alcohol consumption or long-term anti-epileptic medication. Anyone concerned about osteoporosis should speak to their GP who can then refer them to a specialist if needed.

Diagnosis

Osteoporosis is easily diagnosed by undertaking a DEXA scan. This safe, quick and easy scan measures the amount of bone in the skeleton and only takes about 15 minutes. If patients are found to have low amounts of bone then the likely diagnosis is osteoporosis. Patients may then require advice on prevention and treatment which may include medication.

Dr Abbas Ismail is a Consultant Rheumatologist and Specialist in Osteoporosis at The Wilmslow Hospital, 52 Alderley Road. For more information or to book a consultation with Dr Ismail please call 01625 545 036.

References
1. Oliver D. Falls, fragility and fractures: lessons from the last decade and opportunities for the next. Osteoporosis review 2011;19(4): 7-12

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