Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, which leads to increased bone fragility and risk of fracture, particularly of the hip, spine and wrist.
Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, and that number is expected to increase by 240% by the middle of the next century. Additionally, the decrease in estrogen during menopause means an increased risk in the development of osteoporosis with age. This increased risk may contribute to the common misconception that osteoporosis is an "old woman's disease", although in truth, bone loss in women can begin as early as age 25.
As the disease progresses, osteoporosis sufferers often lose several centimeters in height (10-15 cm. is not unusual) because the vertebrae in their spine begin to collapse.6 They also develop "dowager's hump," the characteristic curvature of the spine that can be seen in women of post-menopausal age. Many break their hip, and a startling 15% of those who suffer this common osteoporotic injury die as a result of complications such as pneumonia, other infections and cardiac insuffiency, mostly within the first six months following the fracture.
Osteoporosis is a widespread public health problem, which results in staggering costs to national healthcare systems from osteoporosis-related hospitalization. For example, annual direct medical costs to treat 2.3 million osteoporosis fractures in Europe and the United States add up to USD $27 million. In several European countries, osteoporosis is responsible for more hospital days for women over age 45 than any other disease. And, every 30 seconds, someone in the European Union sustains a fracture as a result of osteoporosis.
Yet, despite all of these facts, it wasn't until 1992 that medical doctors upgraded osteoporosis from being viewed as a "clinical condition" to being identified as a progressive systemic disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue leading to bone fragility and fracture. Ignorance about osteoporosis is still common among health professionals, patients and the public at large. However, organizations do exist that are devoted to extensive education and communication programs which will increase understanding of bone physiology and osteoporosis while raising public awareness of major risk factors, prevention and management of the disease.
The World Health Organization's recommendations to the general public regarding osteoporosis are these: a physically active lifestyle with some time regularly spent outdoors; a balanced diet with a calcium intake of at least 800-1500 milligram per day in children and adults;and a reduction of smoking and high alcohol consumption. Smoking cigarettes is one of the most avoidable risk factors associated with loss of bone density, as current smokers lose bone at faster rates than non-smokers, and by age 80 this can translate into 6% lower bone mineral density.
Actions, Information & Opportunities to Help
There are many websites -- both comprehensive and single-issue -- dedicated to informing and analyzing issues related to osteoporosis. Also listed below are resources that offer help, theoretical sociological works, cultural studies, and multiple published news articles and campaign information pieces.
- International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF)
- The Osteoarthritis Initiative
- Osteoporosis Canada
- Women’s Health Matters: Osteoporosis Health Centre
- The pH Connection and Osteoporosis
- The Calcium Information Resource
- Test Your Calcium IQ
- Exercise for Osteoporosis
- WHO: Press Release: The Impending Epidemic
- The Bone Resource Society, UK
- OBGYN.net: Osteoporosis
- The Informed Woman's Guide to Understanding and Controlling Osteoperosis