What is it?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bones are reduced, leading to weakness of the skeleton and increased risk of fracture, particularly of the spine, wrists, hip, pelvis and upper arms. Osteoporosis and associated fractures are an important cause of mortality and morbidity. In many affected people, bone loss is gradual and without warning signs until the disease is advanced.
- It is also known as “the silent crippler” because a person usually doesn’t know that they have it until it’s too late. Unfortunately, in many cases, the first real “symptom” is a broken bone. Loss of height with gradual curvature of the back (caused by vertebral compression fractures) may be the only physical sign of osteoporosis.
- There are many misconceptions about osteoporosis, for example that it is “an old woman’s disease”. In fact, bone loss in women can begin as early as the age of 25. Worldwide, the lifetime risk for a woman to have an osteoporotic fracture is 30 – 40%. Furthermore, new studies have shown the prevalence of osteoporosis in men is higher than previously thought with approximately one in five men affected.
- Osteoporosis is a widespread public health problem. The costs to national healthcare systems from osteoporosis-related hospitalisation are staggering. Even so, osteoporosis was not precisely defined as a disease until 1994. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has since identified osteoporosis as a priority health issue along with other major non-communicable diseases.
- Rapid progress is being made in the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. Early detection of bone loss is key to the prevention of suffering and escalation of health care costs. Bone mineral density (BMD) measurements are effective in assessing fracture risk, confirming a diagnosis of osteoporosis and monitoring the effect of treatment. A major concern is that access to measuring equipment and qualified technical personnel and reimbursement by medical insurance schemes remain inadequate in a great many countries.