Often termed as a ‘silent thief’, osteoporosis is a disease that progressively robs the bones of their strength, making them weak and porous
Affecting over 50 million Indians, osteoporosis is gradually becoming a serious public health concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) puts this disease second (with cardiovascular diseases at the top) on the list of serious global healthcare problems. One in three women above the age of 50 experience fractures related to osteoporosis. According to WHO, it is an under-recognized public health concern that needs immediate attention. The lack of knowledge and awareness about this crippling disease has translated into a significant human and economic burden on India. While osteoporosis has been known to affect menopausal women commonly, improper dietary habits and an increasingly indoor lifestyle are now putting the relatively younger generation at risk. The lack of awareness about the disease and specific osteoporosis guidelines further raise concerns about its growing trend in the country.
Diagnosis is a challenge
Despite such a high prevalence, only less than half of the patients are diagnosed, and even a lower number of patients come for treatment. Due to the lack of apparent symptoms, osteoporosis is often confused with arthritis. Often, women shove the problem under the carpet, calling it a sign of stress or a natural part of ageing. Diagnosis is difficult also because the bone loss is very gradual and often not detectable through commonly prescribed tests. It requires a particular bone density or DEXA scan that measures bone mineral density or BMD using x-ray bone densitometry. The high diagnostic costs often discourage patients, further pushing the diagnosis rate to dismal numbers.
Also Read: What is the Prognosis of Osteoporosis?
What is osteoporosis?
Our bone mass is at its peak between 20-30 years of age and gradually begins to decline as our bone matrix begins to dissolve. However, the body rebuilds bones through the formation of new cells through a process called remodelling. In osteoporosis patients, the rate at which new bone cells are formed is much lower than the rate of resorption or dissolution of bone matrix. Low bone density makes bones prone to fractures, the most common ones being those of the hip, peripheral joints such as wrists and spine. Osteoporotic fractures can cause severe disability, deformity, pain and even mortality.
Osteoporosis progresses slowly and silently. Often the disease begins to show when a person at risk experiences a minor accident or a fall resulting in a fracture. Patients may experience a decrease in height or postural changes developing a stoop or hunch. Otherwise, seemingly healthy adults may begin to experience joint pain and backache that can be commonly attributed to low calcium and vitamin D levels. This is the case with most urban dwellers and working professionals who are confined to an indoor office environment.
Studies suggest that Asians, particularly Indians, given their genetic disposition, small skeletal frame and dark complexion along with acute nutritional deficiencies are at a higher risk. Risk profiling reports show that the disease prevalence is high in almost a third of the country’s ageing population.
Also Read: Eat this to prevent osteoporosis
Public awareness needs to be created about osteoporosis. We need to understand that the condition is not a natural part of ageing and cannot be reversed once it becomes worse. However, it can be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. While regular exercise can help maintain good muscle tone and bone health, a healthy diet rich in vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and zinc can help prevent deficiencies. Women entering menopause and men over the age of 50 must get screened for osteoporosis regularly. Women, including youngsters, should give priority to their health and symptoms such as prolonged back pain, frequent falls and fractures must not be ignored.
With Inputs from Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical
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