What are the symptoms?
Though some older women notice gradually
increasing joint and muscle aches and pains because their weakened bones are
less able to support the weight and movements of their bodies (and thus the onset of arthritis and tendon changes are hastened), it is a broken bone that most often gives the first clue that osteoporosis is advanced.
These fractures may happen as a result of a very slight injury or during normal daily activities such as bending, twisting, lifting a grandchild, being hugged and pen for no apparent reason. The bones of the spine, wrist, upper arm and hip are most likely to fracture.
The spinal vertebrae are at great risk because they contain a high proportion of the scaffold-like bone most weakened by osteoporosis. Fractures in the spine are often of the insidious ‘crush’ type where small areas of the vertebral cores collapse torn
time to time, resulting in curvature of the upper spinal – the dowager’s hump’ that used e considered inevitable in older women. Spinal fractures can also occur very suddenly causing severe pain radiating the trunk.
These spinal fractures can’t be straightened. The bone sets in the crashed position, leaving the spine permanently curved and resulting in loss of height, pain and disability due to distortion of posture.
Why is osteoporosis so much in the news today?
Osteoporosis is not new, but because there are many more older people (especially women) in the population now than there were 50 years ago, fractures due to osteoporosis have become an important problem of public health.
• In 1900 the average life expectancy for women was around 50 years of age: today it’s around 80 years. In women, most fractures due to osteoporosis occur after the age of 65; from then on the rate of these fractures doubles every five years.
• In the year 2000 there will be twice as many Australian women over the age of 80 as there were in 1985.
• In Australia, nine out of ten fractured hips occur in postmenopausal women.
• It is estimated that female hip fractures use around $400 million per year in health-care costs; other fractures due to osteoporosis cost a further $400 million.
• The number and cost of fractures from osteoporosis can be expected to double by the year 2020 due to the ageing of our population.
Can something be done to reduce the health problems resulting from osteoporosis? Yes! This is another reason for osteoporosis being so much in the news. It is now clear that fractures and other disabilities due to osteoporosis are mostly preventable.