What is osteoporosis?
The word osteoporosis means spongy (porous) bone. We all have a degree of bone loss as we get older, but for some, the bones become quite fragile and when this happens the bones are more likely to fracture.
Who gets osteoporosis?
Anyone can get osteoporosis but women are 4 times more likely than men, mainly due to the process of bone loss which speeds up several years after menopause when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and men generally reach a high level of bone density before the process of bone loss begins.
There are no symptoms. The first thing is when you break a bone in a relatively minor fall. Fractures are most likely in the hip, spine or wrist. Some people have back problems if the bones of the spine become weak, the back starts to curve and you become shorter. In some instances, this can make breathing more difficult.
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:-
- Taking oral steroids for more than 3 months puts you at risk and you should be advised to take calcium and vitamin D tablets to help prevent osteoporosis.
- Lack of oestrogen in the body if you have early menopause (before age 45 years) or hysterectomy where one or both ovaries are removed.
- Lack of weight bearing exercise. Exercise encourages bone development. However excessive exercise can cause a woman’s periods to stop and also put them at higher risk due to oestrogen levels reducing.
- Poor diet – not enough calcium or vitamin D or you are very underweight.
- Heavy smoking.
- Heavy drinking.
- Family history – it can run in families.
No clear physical signs. A doctor may suggest a DEXA scan if they think you have it or at risk. Those who should be referred for a scan are:-
- If already had low impact fracture.
- Steroids for 3 months or more.
- Early menopause.
- Either parent has a hip fracture.
- You have another condition affecting bones e.g. celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and hyperthyroidism.
- Body mass index BMI less than 19.
If diagnosed after a fracture then the fracture is treated first. Treatment is then necessary to prevent further fractures. You will be referred to a Consultant Rheumatologist for management and there are many drugs available for osteoporosis.
Potential risks for Litigation
Osteoporosis is often missed as a diagnosis or diagnosed late after fractures have occurred.
There can also be a failure to investigate osteoporosis in those most at risk as outlined above.
The medical negligence team at Wilson Browne has experience in dealing with claims involving osteoporosis either missed or delayed diagnosis.