An introduction to osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is 'a skeletal disorder characterised by compromised bone strength predisposing a person to an increased risk of fracture' (NIH Consensus Statement 2000). 

Fractures that occur because of reduced bone strength are described as ‘fragility fractures’ and many of these will be caused by osteoporosis. 

NICE describes osteoporosis as 'a progressive skeletal disorder [...] characterised by low bone mass and deterioration of the structure of bone tissue leading to an increase in bone fragility and risk of fracture'. Patient experts involved in the production of the NICE Technology Appraisal of bisphosphonates explained that "fractures can be painful, have a significant impact on a person’s independence and increase mortality" and the "clinical experts emphasised that it is important to prevent fragility fractures, particularly in people at the highest risk of fracture". NICE concluded that "osteoporotic fragility fractures are debilitating, also affecting family and friends, and that preventing these would preserve the quality of life of the person and their carers." 

 

Healthy Bone

Osteoporotic Bone

Osteoporosis can be diagnosed via a bone density scan (although this is not always required). A bone density scan, using a densitometry X-ray (DXA), measures how much ‘bone mineral’ is in the area being measured – usually, one hip and the lower part of the spine. Research has shown that the lower the patient's bone density is the greater their risk is of having a fracture. The scan results are commonly given as a ‘standard deviation’ (SD) – the number of units above or below average. If the patient's bone density is 2.5 SD below average, this is described as ‘osteoporosis’. If the patient's bone density is between the lower end of the normal range and the ‘osteoporosis’ range, they are said to have 'low bone mass' (sometimes termed 'osteopenia’). 

More information for you and your patients

Download our leaflets, posters and factsheets to share with your patients.

Information on our website: what are the causes of osteoporosis?

Our booklet 'All about osteoporosis' is a fantastic resource to share with patients who are newly diagnosed with osteoporosis. 

Booklet: All About Osteoporosis

Next section: what are the causes of osteoporosis?

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