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National Osteoporosis Society

Osteoporosis helpline

0845 450 0230

9am - 5pm Mon-Fri

Frequently Asked Questions for Media

Please find below some of the questions which are most commonly asked by journalists. If you would like further information, please do not hestitate to contact us.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones in our body to become fragile and prone to breaking. People are often unaware that they have fragile bones until the time of a first fracture. Broken wrists, hips and spinal bones are the most common fractures in people with osteoporosis, but they can also occur elsewhere in the body.

How many people are affected by osteoporosis in the UK?

One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will break a bone, mainly as a result of poor bone health.

What causes osteoporosis?

Two types of cells are constantly at work in our bones. One set (osteoblasts) builds up new bone while another set (osteoclasts) break down old bone. Up to our mid-20s, osteoblasts work hard to build strength into our skeleton. However, from our 40s onwards, osteoclasts take over and our bones gradually lose their density. This is when osteoporosis and broken bones can occur. Bone loss is part of the natural ageing process, but fractures are not an inevitable part of old age.

Can osteoporosis be cured?

People have fragile bones as a result of many factors including their genetic make up. Bone density can improve and risks of fracture may diminish but those at high risk of fracture often continue to need treatment.   There is a range of drug treatments available to help reduce the risk of breaking a bone and most will decrease the risk of fracture by about 50%. Lifestyle changes such as increasing weight-bearing exercise will help to build and keep your bones strong. It is also important to have a well balanced calcium rich diet to provide all the nutrients your bones need, and to make sure you get enough vitamin D.

Can it be prevented?

Approximately 80 per cent of our bone health is inherited from our parents. However, there are a number of measures which can be taken to influence the remaining 20 per cent of the bone health which is left in our own hands. These steps include a healthy diet, regular weight bearing exercise, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol consumption, and giving up smoking.

Can you die from osteoporosis?

No, osteoporosis or low bone density alone does not directly cause death. However, it is some of the consequences of breaking a bone - particularly the hip - that contribute to people dying prematurely.

Is osteoporosis painful?

While low bone density is not painful itself, it is the resulting broken bones that are. Spinal fractures related to osteoporosis, which are common in post-menopausal and older women, can cause long term pain and can cause loss of height and curvature of the spine. The resulting change in body shape can lead to problems with breathing, eating, digestion, dressing, and can also have a major effect on self-image.

What’s the difference between brittle bone disease and osteoporosis?

Brittle bone disease, known as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), is a genetic bone disorder where sufferers are born with insufficient collagen (protein) in their bones, causing weak or fragile bones. Osteoporosis, on the other hand, is when bones become so fragile they break easily.

Osteogenesis imperfecta, or ‘the brittle bone disease’ is a completely separate medical condition and should not be confused with osteoporosis.

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is the term applied to those whose bone density is slightly below the average range, as measured on a bone density scan. Bone density readings need to be considered along side other risk factors for fracture and can be helpful to determine who will benefit from an osteoporosis drug treatment.

Osteopenia without other risk factors would not usually be considered significant. There are a number of steps a person diagnosed with osteopenia can take to ensure that their bones do not deteriorate further, including a healthy diet, regular weight bearing exercise, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol consumption, and giving up smoking.

What is meant by weight bearing exercise?

Weight bearing exercise is exercise where the weight of the body pulls on the skeleton. Examples include running, aerobics, skipping etc.

How can you increase your calcium intake?

Examples of foods high in calcium include: dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese), tofu, leafy green vegetables (spinach, curly kale), dried figs & apricots, breakfast cereals fortified with calcium such as Ready Brek, tinned fish (sardines and anchovies). For more information on osteoporosis and healthy eating, click here.

 

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Hip fractures cost the NHS and government more than £2.3 billion a year – that’s £6 million a day.

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