It has been estimated that some 3 million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis. It is often called the ‘silent disease’ because people don’t know they suffer from it until a fracture resulting from a fall reveals it. Osteoporosis is a degenerative condition that gradually weakens bones and makes them more brittle over time. That’s why people with the disease are more prone to fractures.
As a private rheumatology consultant in London, I consult with osteoporosis patients on a regular basis. I am happy to say that there are a number of treatments we can utilise to help patients continue living full lives even with this disease. Know that in every case, treatments are recommended after considering a number of factors, including:
- age and sex
- previous medical history
- the risk of additional fractures
Fracture risk is especially important if you are only diagnosed with osteoporosis after suffering a fracture. Your treatment would likely include strategies for preventing broken bones in the future.
The first course of treatment may involve nothing more than dietary changes. As we age, the body does not make the best use of the foods we eat. Therefore, treating osteoporosis may involve changing the way you eat so as to increase the amount of calcium and vitamin D you are getting.
Your doctor may ask you about your regular eating habits. If necessary, he or she may recommend trying other foods. If your diet is already where it should be, your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements.
In the event that dietary changes are not enough, there are pharmaceutical treatments that we can work with. The most common are medications known as bisphosphonates. This is a class of medications that slows down osteoporosis progression, thereby maintaining current bone density for longer periods of time.
Bisphosphonates are available in four common medications and are administered either orally or by way of injection. The two biggest downsides to these medications are that they can take up to a year before measurable results are observed and you may have to take them for five years or longer.
Changes in hormone production are generally a contributing factor to osteoporosis. Therefore, other treatments are based on restoring hormonal balance. A doctor may recommend a parathyroid hormone designed to increase bone density by encouraging more calcium production.
Female patients may be advised to consider selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). These medications mimic the actions of the natural oestrogen hormone. Likewise, doctors may recommend hormone replacement therapy to female patients. Testosterone may be suggested to male patients.
Finally, lifestyle changes may be recommended depending on the severity of the disease. If a patient’s bones are especially brittle, doctors may recommend avoiding terribly strenuous activity until bone density increases sufficiently. At the same time, moderate, low impact exercise can be helpful. Doctors will help patients find that perfect balance.
Patients engaging in risky activities that could result in fractures are generally advised to set those activities aside, at least temporarily. If bone density does not recover, such activities may have to be abandoned altogether.
Osteoporosis is a fairly common disease. Although it mainly affects older people, younger patients are seen from time to time. If you think you might be suffering from osteoporosis, I am available to work with you and help you figure it out. Make an appointment to meet with me in my London clinic at your earliest convenience.