OSTEOPOROSIS: How weak bones could leave you inches shorter

Posted on Sep 27 2017 - 5:20am by admin

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Osteoporosis affects 3 million people in the UK and there is currently no screening programme

Then two years later the clinical nurse from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, slipped and fell and an X-ray revealed she had broken her spine in two places. 

Further tests revealed she had a spinal haemorrhage which required her to wear a brace for four months. 

Christine, now 55, says that prior to this neither she nor her medical team had considered an underlying cause. 

However after fracturing her spine in two places she decided to mention something to her doctor she had previously thought unimportant.

I suddenly felt old and useless. My head was in a dark place and I questioned whether I’d be able to work, be fit or look after my family again.

Christine Howis

“I went through early menopause at the age of 36,” explains Christine, who has a 17-year-old daughter, Grace. 

“A DEXA scan (which measures bone density) resulted in a diagnosis of osteoporosis of my spine and osteopenia (bone density that is lower than normal but not severe enough to be osteoporosis) of my hips. 

I had lost one inch in height and had a significant kyphosis (a spine curvature causing the top of the back to be more rounded).” 

She adds: “I suddenly felt old and useless. My head was in a dark place and I questioned whether I’d be able to work, be fit or look after my family again.”

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Treatments for osteoporosis include a combination of drug therapies and non-drug treatments

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes or a vitamin D or calcium deficiency. 

One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 experience fractures, mostly as a result of low bone strength. 

The condition affects 3 million people in the UK and as there is no UK screening programme and there are no telltale symptoms to alert sufferers to its presence in the early stages, osteoporosis remains largely undiagnosed until a bone is fractured. A third of sufferers don’t even know that they have it. 

Experts have warned that official National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines to evaluate and treat bone weakness are often ignored, with patients not monitored after suffering a fracture.

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The effects of osteoporosis, including reduced bone density and a loss of height, can be reversed

Consultant rheumatologist Dr Taher Mahmud, of the London Osteoporosis Clinic, says: “Women can lose up to 20 per cent of their bone density in the five to seven years following menopause due to the drop in oestrogen which protects bone strength. So it is crucial in the run-up to menopause that they focus on their skeletons and take action to ensure they can stay healthy and mobile in later life. 

“The majority of the population is probably deficient in vitamin D which you can really only get through supplements or being exposed to the sun. This means certain groups such as women and those who work indoors will be more vulnerable.” 

The Harley Street clinic which was set up by Dr Mahmud and Sir Graeme Catto, former chair of the General Medical Council (GMC), is dedicated to early and post-fracture screening, diagnosis and treatment – the first of its kind in the UK. 

Depending on the severity of the condition, the clinic uses a combination of drug therapy, non-drug treatments and lifestyle approaches such as giving up smoking and eating food rich in certain nutrients, to treat patients.

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Individuals can help prevent osteoporosis by remaining active, and obtaining sufficient nutrients

Christine, who was treated at the clinic, was prescribed vitamin D and calcium supplements alongside daily jabs of parathyroid hormone teriparatide, a drug which slows the progression of the disease and helps to grow new bone. 

Dr Mahmud says Christine was particularly susceptible to developing the condition. “Nurses are already known to suffer more musculoskeletal problems due to the rigours of their job,” he explains. 

“She had undergone an early menopause and already had her first fracture before a fall at work, resulting in back pain, revealed further damage. She was also losing height, a key symptom of osteoporosis.” 

He adds: “Unlike oral or eye health, for example, there seems to be a tendency to take our bones for granted and look only into corrective rather than preventative interventions.

“Bones are living organisms too and it’s crucial that we listen to our bodies, especially as we age, and get regular checkups. There is a range of steps we can take to ensure we keep our bones healthy, from staying active to ensuring we have key nutrients in our diets, including calcium and vitamin D.” 

Sir Graeme Catto says: “It is not a well-known fact that osteoporosis can be reversed, bone density can be increased, height can be restored and life can go on.” 

Christine, who regained the height she lost after six months of treatment, agrees.

“My fractures have healed, my back is straighter and my kyphosis is hardly noticeable. I’m back at work, exercising again and I’m enjoying life.” 

Visit londonosteoporosisclinic.com for more information

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