Saturday, 14 March 2015

Osteoporosis: a disease that deserves more attention.

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects millions of people, mostly women, as they get older. It is a scourge of old-age and yet it is never really heard about. Diseases like cancer and dementia get far more attention, yet osteoporosis is as great a cause of pain, ill-health and early death as these.
I’m seeing my mother become more and more curved over in the past year. She is in constant pain, from a new pressure fracture in her lumbar spine last August, and now another one in her upper spine and possibly a rib too. She is pretty-well chair-bound these days, the shrinking of her spine is matched by the shrinking of her whole world to the one room where she sits all day, only going out to medical appointments.
Not only that, but the decrease of the body cavity caused by the shrinkage of the spine causes crowding of the organs. The most common outcome of this is a hiatus hernia, where – basically- the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm, and begins to take up space in the rib cage, pushing the lungs aside. This, in turn, causes lung problems such as bronchiectasis, a more or less permanent low-level chest infection, which regularly flares up into worse infections.  
You begin to see why a bone disease can cause early death. The constant pain, the lung problems, immobility and loss of appetite – all take their toll. And the hernia can possibly strangulate, which – I suspect – is pretty well a death sentence.
It’s not an easy way to live, nor to die.
Looking at Mum I think if this happens to me - and it’s quite likely to – I’m not sure I’m going to stick around for it to play out its course. Mum just gets on with it, or if she is thinking anything else, she does not tell me.
I decided to look up some information about causes and prevention of osteoporosis, as I know a healthy lifestyle when younger can prevent it. I was a bit shocked to see some things on the list of do’s and don’t’s
Of course I know already that a diet with plenty of calcium AND vitamin D plus lots exercise (load-bearing and flexibility) are important. I’m alright there. BUT- and this is important- we can never get enough vitamin D just through our skins from the sun. Take a supplement. If it’s the only one you take, it will be worth it. And take it now- don’t wait till you get older or have the first symptoms of osteoporosis.
I also know already that thyroid disease and early onset of menopause can also be factors, so a tick in the bad box for me there.
I’m not surprised to read that smoking can aid the development of osteoporosis, as it causes so many problems and prevents the uptake of nutrients, and I am reassured to read that omega-3 type fats are beneficial for the bones as well as the brain.  
But I am a bit shocked to discover that drinking lots of caffeine is a no-no – how many cups of tea do I get through a day?
I also have found out that one type of regular meds I am on can also cause loss of bone density. No-one mentioned that to me before.

There’s nothing glamorous about the research into treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, which I guess is one reason it does not receive a lot of attention. There’s big bucks in cancer treatment; and so much still to learn about all the different types of dementia. But osteoporosis is just one of those things that seems to be about just getting older, and there’s no money to be made from teaching people healthier lifestyles.

But we should all care about it and it should get a higher profile. I’m down to have another bone-density scan, my new doctor is really hot on this. And I guess I’m going to check out those caffeine-free teas too. 

1 comment:

  1. Gosh just read this and other posts. Heartbreaking so much of it and how very difficult. Thank you for the above - I certainly didn't know most of that! x