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Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a fall or sudden impact causes a bone to break (fracture).
According to NHS, the most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are broken wrist, broken hip and broken spinal bones (vertebrae).
However, breaks can also happen in other bones, such as in the arm or pelvis. Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a broken rib or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine.
Osteoporosis is not usually painful until a bone is broken, but broken bones in the spine are a common cause of long-term pain.
Although a broken bone is often the first sign of osteoporosis, some older people develop the characteristic stooped (bent forward) posture. It happens when the bones in the spine have broken, making it difficult to support the weight of the body.
Osteoporosis can be treated with bone strengthening medicines.
Bone loss before osteoporosis (osteopenia)
The stage before osteoporosis is called osteopenia. This is when a bone density scan shows you have lower bone density than the average for your age, but not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis.
Osteopenia does not always lead to osteoporosis. It depends on many factors.
If you have osteopenia, there are steps you can take to keep your bones healthy and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Your doctor may also prescribe one of the bone-strengthening treatments that are given to people with osteoporosis, depending on how weak your bones are and your risk of breaking a bone.
Who's affected by osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis affects over 3 million people in the UK.
More than 500,000 people receive hospital treatment for fragility fractures (bones that break after falling from standing height or less) every year as a result of osteoporosis.
Living with osteoporosis
If you're diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of a fall, such as removing hazards from your home and having regular sight tests and hearing tests.
To help you recover from a fracture, you can try using:
1. hot and cold treatments such as warm baths and cold packs
2. transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): where a small battery-operated device is used to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain
3. relaxation techniques.
Speak to your doctor 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 people with the condition.
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