Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break.It develops slowly over several years andis often only diagnosed when a minorfall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.

The most common injuriesin people with osteoporosis are:

  • Broken Wrist
  • hip fractures
  • fractures of the spinal bones (vertebrae)

However, they can also occur in other bones, such as inthe arm or pelvis.Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a rib fracture or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine.

Osteoporosisisn't usually painful until a fracture occurs,but spinal fracturesare a common cause oflong-term (chronic) pain.

Although a fracture is the first sign of osteoporosis,some older people developthe characteristic stooped (bent forward) posture. It happens when the bones in the spinehave fractured, making it difficult to support the weight of the body.

Who's affected?

Osteoporosis affects over three million people in the UK.

More than500,000 people receive hospital treatment for fragility fractures (fractures that occur from standing height or less) every year as a result of osteoporosis.

Causes of osteoporosis

Losing bone is a normal part of the ageing process, but some people lose bone density much faster than normal. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.

Women also lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause (whenmonthly periods stop and the ovaries stop producing an egg). Women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if the menopause begins early (before the age of 45).

Many other factors can also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, including:

  • long-term use of high-doseoral corticosteroids
  • other medicalconditions such as inflammatory conditions, hormone-related conditions, or malabsorption problems
  • a family history of osteoporosisparticularly history of a hip fracture in a parent
  • long-term use of certain medications which can affect bone strength or hormone levels
  • having a low body mass index (BMI)
  • heavy drinking and smoking

It's a short, painless procedure that takesaboutfive minutes, depending on the part of the body being scanned.

Your bone mineral densitycan becomparedto the bone mineral density of a healthy young adult and someone who's the same age and sex as you.The difference iscalculated as a standard deviation (SD) and is calleda T score.

Standard deviation is a measure of variability based on an average or expected value. A T score of:

  • above -1 SDisnormal
  • between -1 and -2.5 SDis defined as decreased bone mineral density compared withpeak bone mass
  • below -2.5 isdefined as osteoporosis


You may be diagnosed with osteopenia if bone density tests show you have decreasedbone density, but not enough to be classed as osteoporosis.

Your doctor may still recommend some of the treatments described below,depending on your results and your risk of fracture.

Treating osteoporosis

Treatment for osteoporosis is based on treating and preventing fractures, and using medication to strengthen bones.

The decision about whether you needtreatment depends on your risk of fracture. This will bebased on a number of factorssuch as your age, sexand the results of your DEXA scan.

If you need treatment, your doctor can suggest the safest and most effective treatment plan for you.

Read moreabout how osteoporosis is treated .

Preventing osteoporosis

If you're at risk of developing osteoporosis, you shouldtake steps to help keep your bones healthy. This may include:

  • taking regular exercise
  • healthy eating includingfoods rich in calcium and vitaminD
  • taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D
  • making lifestyle changessuch as giving up smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption

To help you recover from a fracture, you can try using:

  • hot and coldtreatmentssuch as warm baths and cold packs
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) where a small battery-operated device is used to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain
  • relaxation techniques

Speak to your GP or nurse if you're worried about living with a long-term condition. They may be able to answer any questions you have.

You may also find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist, or other peoplewith the condition.

The National Osteoporosis Society can put you in touch with local support groups .


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 25 Nov 2016