Osteoporosis: the silent epidemic
Sticks, stones—and osteoporosis—can break your bones.
By Bernice Varona
“I thought osteoporosis was something that affected old ladies,” Allan, 54, recounts, remembering the first time he learned he had the disease. “I collapsed in agony while lifting furniture at home one day, and the doctors saw that my vertebrae were spongy and damaged. It took them several months to diagnose me with spinal osteoporosis. The doctors told me I had the bones of an 80-year-old.”
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density and quality are reduced. As the bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of fractures increases. This silent disease usually doesn’t have any symptoms until the time the patient develops fractures at the hip and spine, like in Allan’s case. This is the reason why osteoporosis is also considered a silent epidemic.
Deteriorating living tissue
People with osteoporosis experience rapid bone loss, compared to those with normal bone growth. Our bones are made out of living tissue and are constantly changing throughout our lives. From the moment of birth until young adulthood, our bones develop and strengthen until they reach their most dense state, or peak bone mass, in our early 20s. After this peak, the bone removing cells begin to increase and a gradual loss of bone mineral continues for the rest of one’s life. How weak one’s bones get as we age hinges on the peak bone mass achieved in early adulthood and the rate of subsequent bone loss. Those with osteoporosis have a faster rate of deterioration that results in fractures that could be debilitating.
According to the Osteoporosis Society of the Philippines Foundation, Inc., it’s predicted that about 4 million Filipinos will be at high risk of osteoporosis by 2020, and this number may surpass 10 million by 2050. The disease isn’t just confined to women. Around the world, one in three women and one in five men are at risk of osteoporotic fractures, with the risk increasing with age in both men and women. Results from bone health examinations conducted among 250,000 Filipino men from 2011 to 2012 showed that 43 percent of men between ages of 26 to 65 are at risk. Osteoporosis is considered one of the most common and debilitating chronic diseases worldwide.
Decline of bone mass
“I never considered myself to be at risk for osteoporosis because I was active when I was young,” says Allan. “But when I started working, I was more sedentary with the occasional drinking and smoking. These may have contributed to my getting the disease.” Risk factors for osteoporosis include: