There are no obvious physical signs of osteoporosis. It can therefore go unnoticed for years. Quite often the first indication is when a person breaks one of their bones in what might have been normally a minor accident.
If a doctor suspects osteoporosis, he or she can order a bone scan to test the strength or density of the bones. This scan is now available at many hospitals throughout the country. The results will tell how much risk there is of fractures. It takes about fifteen minutes while the bones are X-rayed. The dose of radiation is tiny - about the same as spending a day out in the sun. The technique is called Dual Energy X-ray Apsorptiometry and is known as DEXA.
There is a great deal that can be done throughout life to guard against the condition.
Healthy diet. Children and adults need a diet which contains the right amount of calcium. The best sources of this are milk, cheese and yoghurt, and foods such as tinned sardines. Skimmed milk actually contains more calcium per pint than full fat milk. The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 milligrams (mg) or 1500mg if over 60 years. A pint of milk a day, plus a normal amount of other foods which contain calcium will do the trick.
Children's exercise. Children should actively participate in sports of other forms of exercise to help strengthen their bones.
Adult exercise. For the same reason, adults should keep physically active all the way into retirement. Choose 'weight-bearing' exercises - any activity which involves walking or running.
Smoking. Avoid smoking
Drinking. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. The recommended daily maximum for a woman is 2 - 3 units. For a man it is 3 - 4 units. A unit is a single measure of spirits, or half a pint of normal strength beer of lager, or a standard size glass of 8% alcohol by volume wine.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Women who have been through the menopause may want to consider HRT, since this can be a very good way of preventing osteoporosis, but all treatments have risks and HRT does not suit everyone. The main advantages of HRT are that the loss of bone is slowed down and it also helps prevent heart disease. The main disadvantages are that monthly periods return and that there can be a temporary tenderness around the breasts and some temporary nausea. There is a very slight increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Apart from the preventative measures already mentioned, there are some drugs and treatments available if you are suffering from osteoporosis. These may arrest the loss of bone or reduce the risk of fractures.
Calcium and Vitamin D. If people with osteoporosis take small daily amounts of vitamin D, along with 1000mg of calcium, their bones seem to be less likely to break.
Etidronate (Didronel). This drug slows the normal process of bone loss and has been used effectively a treatment for osteoporosis. The treatment is not continuous, but takes place in cycles. Once every three months, the patient takes sodium etidronate (also known under the trade names Didronel or Didronel PMO) for a period of two weeks. This takes place for three years. Daily doses of calcium are taken as well, but not on the days etidronate is taken.
Alendronate (Phosomax). Alendronate is a similar drug to etidronate, but is taken as a daily dose.
Calcitonin. This is a substance which the body produces naturally and helps keep the bones healthy. In certain cases, when used as a treatment, it has enabled the bones of people with osteoporosis to grow stronger. Calcitonin is not often prescribed because it can only be given in injection form.
Helen Murray writes and edits content for use on numerous websites including Osteoporosis [http://www.findoutaboutosteoporosis.com], Stretch marks [http://www.strangemarks.com] & Acid Reflux