When did you last suffer a fracture?
Chances are it was some time ago. However, bowel problem sufferers can be more prone to a broken wrist, hip or ankle than others due to a condition known as osteoporosis. Red Lion member Sandy Hyams explains.
Seven years ago, I had a nasty fall, breaking and dislocating my shoulder and sustaining nerve damage. I also started suffering from back pain which no amount of painkillers seemed to budge.
To add to my woes, I discovered that I had wedge compression fractures of the spine when the bones become “squashed” due to their reduced strength.
As you can see I’m not one to do things by halves! In fact, I lost count of the number of physiotherapists I visited in a vain attempt to relieve my constant pain. And it was not until a GP suggested I have a DEXA scan* that I discovered osteoporosis had been the culprit all along.
It all started when I tried to reach up into the top of a bedroom wardrobe to lift down a blanket and fell in the process. When I fell over there was a loud crack as I felt my bones go.
As part of the fall-out (excuse the pun!) I lost about three inches in height and suddenly – it all seemed to happen overnight – I found all my trousers were too long and I couldn’t get up to shelves that had been well within my reach before.
So, what exactly is osteoporosis? It is a brittle bone condition that is usually discovered – as in my case – after a fall. An estimated one in two women and one in five men over 50 suffer such fractures which usually occur in the wrist or hip.
Osteoporosis is often referred to as the “silent epidemic” and UC (ulcerative colitis) and Crohn’s sufferers are particularly prone to it. Among the danger signs for bowel disease sufferers are long-term use of steroids, low body weight, poor food absorption and long periods of immobility.
Other contributory factors are family genes, low calcium intake when young, heavy smoking, excessive drinking and lack of exercise. Low bone density also increases with age and one of the major risk factors for post-menopausal women is a declining level of oestrogen, the hormone which protects by balancing the removal of old and the renewal of new bone cells.
Reassuringly, osteoporosis can be treated and prevented. Three effective ways to help strengthen your bones and general skeleton are to revert to a calcium-rich diet, use weight-bearing exercises at home or at the gym and take Vitamin D supplements and get as much natural sunshine as possible! All these remedies help the body to absorb calcium.
For many years the only treatment available for women with osteoporosis was HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Now, however, there is a range of non-hormonal drugs on the market, including the commonly prescribed bisphosphonates, which are mostly in tablet form and taken either daily, weekly or monthly. There are also intravenous and subcutaneous injections. Like most medicines, they all have possible side-effects. For instance, bisphosphonates can cause digestive irritation, a sore throat or difficulty in swallowing.
For me, one of the drawbacks of regular tablets was needing to take them first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and then remaining upright for 30 minutes afterwards. After speaking to a consultant, I decided to opt for Prolia (known as Denosumab), a twice-yearly jab given at my local GP surgery. A week before each injection I have a blood test to check my calcium and vitamin D levels.
If you think you might be at risk of osteoporosis, it would be a good idea to discuss with your GP whether you need a referral for a DEXA scan. It could certainly save you the pain and misery of broken bones in the future. Although osteoporosis does not make a fracture a certainty, the chances of suffering a broken bone are undoubtedly more likely.
* Most hospitals have this scanner which measures the bone density of the spine, hips and femurs and is a simple and pain-free procedure that uses very low doses of radiation.
For more information on any aspect of osteoporosis, you can phone the Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS) helpline on 0808 800 0035 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ROS also has an extensive range of free booklets, leaflets and factsheets about the condition.
Ed: If any RLG members have had similar experiences to Sandy’s, please write to our Letters page (email@example.com).
This article first appeared in ISSUE 58: Christmas 2019 edition of ROAR!
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