Have you checked out the scaffolding that carries you around?
The perception that this is the “Little Old Lady’s Disease” is false.
This “Silent Disease”
affects approximately 2 million SA 50-plussers
Initially, osteoporosis has no symptoms. It is often not diagnosed until after one has had a fracture. There are few warning signs, such as loss of height, or a curved back. Your bones are important to your life and to your longevity. You need to be informed about the risk factors for low bone density and speak to your doctor about bone health.
Lyn, a YEI member, shares her story:
I’ve heard about osteoporosis, but thought I didn’t fit the profile. It turns out you don’t have to fit the profile – thin, small boned, Caucasian and heading towards 60. It’s amazing how you can have the symptoms, but something doesn’t “click”. I was diagnosed with two fractures in my spine two years ago, found on an MRI and X-ray. I was told I had borderline osteoporosis, but nothing could be done, just three months of rest and medication. Not easy, as my husband had just had a bypass and I had to run his business and mine during his and my recuperation. Luckily, my office chair was very comfortable! The following year, I had a really strange pain in my right groin. X-ray showed nothing. It took about three months to heal. My back and legs were never terribly comfortable after that. Fast-forward to June 2020. In Lockdown, I had a tingle in my left groin, which quickly developed into severe pain. Back on crutches and this time I went to visit the Orthopaedic and Spinal Surgeon who diagnosed severe osteoporosis after an MRI and blood tests. It turned out the pain I had had in my right groin the year before was a healed fracture. I have been given differing advice – annual infusion vs a weekly medication, exercise – walking or cycling, biokineticist or physiotherapist. I have taken it upon myself to take Collagen, calcium, magnesium, and Super Cee, and drink bone broth daily. The best advice to date that I have been given is to see an Endocrinologist, who specialises in a range of conditions, such as diabetes, menopause, osteoporosis and thyroid problems. So here we go, at the beginning of my osteoporosis journey – I have to get it right. I want to play with my grandchildren, enjoy this beautiful country and travel. It is incredible how quickly one can go to being borderline osteoporosis to having fully-fledged osteoporosis, but I am determined to be fit and well.
Osteoporosis does not discriminate
There are several well-known people, such as Sally Field, Britt Ekland, Blythe Danner, Ursula Andress, Gwyneth Paltrow, who have been diagnosed with this skeletal condition, or its precursor, osteopenia. Field, who was diagnosed just short of her 60th birthday, said: “The good news about osteoporosis is that it’s very treatable. But it’s silent,” she warns. “You don’t know it’s there unless you’re getting bone density tests and you have someone looking out for you, like a really good doctor. When I was first diagnosed, I wondered if I would have to give up my active lifestyle and playing with my grandchildren,” she said. “Instead, they see me manage my osteoporosis so that it doesn’t slow me down.” Field takes medication to protect her bones, takes Vitamin D regularly, and works out religiously.
Kelly, a YEI member, shares her story:
Kelly, a 70-year old YEI member, started her journey with the “silent disease” two years ago, when she was diagnosed with osteoporosis after having had a bone density test. Kelly now takes Osteonate once a week, Caltrate daily, eats a very healthy diet (she grows her own vegetables), exercises and walks daily and is grateful for her good health – she doesn’t suffer with much pain. She wonders if her wrinkles go hand in hand with the loss of Collagen and estrogen. She also wonders if her mother had undiagnosed osteoporosis as she broke her arm three times, had unbearable pain and didn’t walk for six years of her life – she was 84 when she died of breast cancer.
Ann, a YEI member, shares her story:
Ann is 70 and lives in Gauteng. 2017 was a good and bad year for Ann. The good part was – she got married to a very special man. The bad part was her health. Ann never felt well. She was always tired and had flu-like symptoms. She was constantly on anti-biotics for bladder infections. Shortly after her marriage, Ann went for her regular checkups – a mammogram and a bone density checkup. Although the bone density checkup showed signs of bone loss, Ann’s GP wasn’t terribly concerned. It was only when Ann went for a gynae checkup that she felt as though someone was taking her seriously. The gynae called for a blood test which showed signs of primary hyperparathyroidism. Hyperparathyroidism is a condition in which one or more of the parathyroid glands become overactive and secrete too much parathyroid hormone (PTH). This causes the levels of calcium in the blood to rise, a condition known as hypercalcemia. This was the cause of the osteoporosis and the flu like symptoms. Ann says “I was referred to an osteoporosis expert who sent me to a vascular surgeon. After the removal of two of my parrathyroids, my calcium levels returned to normal. My current treatment for osteoporosis is an annual bisphosphonate drip (an active osteoporosis treatment), and I take one calcium tablet every morning. I also walk for 30-60 minutes a day, and do pilates twice a week to strengthen my core and my bones. During Lockdown, we have been doing Facebook and Zoom classes. I will be forever grateful to my gynae who took the time to investigate why I was having a problem. Today all my symptoms are gone, and I lead a normal, very happy life.”
NOFSA is the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for those suffering with osteoporosis, by making the diagnostic tools available. Secondly, they want everyone suffering from osteoporosis to have access to medications that will prevent their first fractures. NOFSA also supports the research about the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, thereby preventing or lessening the serious socio-economic impact of this disease in our country.
Teréza Hough, CEO, NOFSA had this to say: You are never too young to develop osteoporosis and you are never too old to treat osteoporosis – visit the NOFSA website for more information on osteoporosis and its prevention and treatment.
Treatment and medication
Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are a number of treatments and medications available that can assist those living with the disease. However, getting the right osteoporosis medication will depend on a number of factors, including:
- Age – certain medications are more appropriate for postmenopausal women.
- Sex – some medications are specifically – and only approved – for women (e.g. estrogen)
- How far along the osteoporosis disease is – health practitioners should take into consideration other health elements and risk factors (such as breast cancer, blood clots, radiation treatment, etc.) before recommending the right osteoporosis medication.
- Personal preferences – medications are available as pills, liquids or IV medicines and preference of this will vary from person to person.
Like muscles, bones get stronger through resistance and bearing weight. Activities like walking, climbing stairs, and using free weights or resistance bands build bone mass. Exercise also improves balance and flexibility, which reduces the risk of falls.
Sources of information:
You’ve Earned It / YEI (https://youve-earned-it.co.za/),
the online retirement platform
for South African over-60s
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