'We believe thousands of people are suffering unnecessary broken bones,’ says Claire Severgnini, chief executive of the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS). ‘That’s why we want to shout from the rooftops about our “Stop at One” campaign, and give them the confidence to speak to their GP.’
A diagnosis of osteoporosis can be alarming, but it’s one a lot of us are likely to get; once we’re over 50, one in two women (and one in five men) is at risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture or break.
However, today’s treatments have a good record for tackling the bone fragility that causes so much distress – so it’s best to get a diagnosis as early as possible, rather than after a cycle of painful breaks and fractures. For example, if you’ve had a fracture that shouldn’t have damaged a healthy bone (a classic is a wrist fracture after you
put your hand out to break a fall), that’s a warning sign.
Osteoporosis: The foods to eat and the treatments available
Stop at One
The NOS Stop at One campaign is aimed at all over-50s who have suffered a fracture but have not been to their GP for an osteoporosis assessment. The doctor will go through their medical and family history to see if they fall into a high-risk category and might need a scan to test their bone density.
Dr Alun Cooper, a GP in Crawley, West Sussex, and a trustee of the NOS, suggests that if you are in this position, you should start by asking if any of the GPs at your practice take a special interest in bone health (or specialise in women’s health – even if you’re a man – as so many women suffer from osteoporosis). Many surgeries do have GPs who focus on specific conditions. If you’d like to speak to someone before going to the doctor’s to clarify any particular questions or concerns, you can call the National Osteoporosis Society’s helpline on 0808 800 0035 (9am to 5pm every weekday, and from 11am until 7pm on Tuesdays). You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for a private reply (please allow up to five working days to hear back from NOS).
Ask your GP for an osteoporosis assessment
When you do see your GP, it should be enough to explain that you haven’t had an assessment – because all the national guidance recommends it, especially if you’re over 75. If your doctor seems reluctant, try suggesting they look at the new website the NOS and Royal College of General Practitioners have developed together (www.osteoporosis-resources.org.uk). It’s been written by and for GPs, so it gives a clear briefing on the condition. ‘You should also ask for blood tests to check for the conditions that increase your osteoporosis risk, such as coeliac disease,’ says Cooper.
‘A fracture is an opportunity to do something, especially as there are really good treatments available out there – but all too often it is a missed opportunity,’ Cooper concludes. He and his colleagues are hoping that, from now on, many more people will benefit from those opportunities.
Five ways to reduce your risk of osteoporosis
Eat dairy products
They’re a terrific source of calcium, the essential bone-building mineral. Alternatively, try sardines or dried figs.
As well as all the other damage cigarettes do, they have a directly toxic effect on your bones.
Get some sun
Vitamin D is essential for absorbing calcium properly. As older people are particularly likely to be low in this nutrient, you might want to consider taking a supplement – especially in winter, when the sun is not strong enough to make vitamin D in skin.
Vitamin D vs sun damage: getting the balance right
Weight-bearing exercise strengthens our bones and walking is ideal.
Nine ways to get more out of your walks
Bend and stretch
Exercises such as yoga and t’ai chi can improve your balance and muscle strength, which will make you less likely to fall over in the first place.
Download our guide to preventing falls