News & Events



Love your bones – protect your future

World Osteoporosis Day is marked on 20 October 2016

It is estimated that, worldwide, an osteoporotic fracture occurs every three seconds. Osteoporosis (OP) is a preventable disease and earlier detection and successful intervention may prevent the heavy toll the disease can take on a person’s future.

What is osteoporosis?
“Osteo” literally means bone and “porosis” means porous. The term osteoporosis describes the appearance of bone were they to be broken in half and visually examined. Normal bone would have small holes but a bone with osteoporosis would have much more and larger pores or holes in them. This decrease in bone quantity is an important risk factor for fractures as it contributes to a decrease in the strength of the bone.

The prevalence of OP is much more common than is generally thought. Over 200 million people worldwide are affected. In South Africa one in three women and one in five men will develop the disease within their lifetime.

Broken bones due to OP are a serious concern mainly due to the impact it has on the quality of life and longevity of the person affected. It is estimated that 20 to 24 percent of patients do not survive for another year after sustaining a hip fracture.

The common perception that OP is a disease of the white female is incorrect. Research done at the University of Stellenbosch demonstrated similar vertebral fracture prevalence in black and white women, highlighting that the disease need to be suspected in patients of all ethnic groups.

To make matters worse, some fractures, mostly lumbar, often go undiagnosed and even if a fracture is diagnosed OP are too infrequently considered as the underlying cause.

Prevention is always better than cure and the importance of lifestyle strategies cannot be overemphasised. But unfortunately for some, lifestyle measures alone will not be enough. It is therefore essential that people talk to their doctors to seek early diagnosis and appropriate treatment if indicated. Anyone at high risk must take advantage of all available measures to reduce the likelihood of future debilitating fractures.

The good news is that OP can be prevented to a great extent. Frequently the factors that lead to OP are those that accelerate bone loss. Some of these accelerating factors can be out of a patient’s control (such as family history).

Yet there are steps everyone can take to prevent bone loss. Good nutrition and regular weight-bearing exercise are very important ways to protect bone. It is recommended that a person exercises 30 to 40 minutes per day three to four times per week. Ensure an adequate intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D, limit alcohol intake and refrain from smoking.

A frequently overseen aspect that deserves mentioning is to prevent falls at all cost, especially in the elderly.

Bone mineral density (BMD) is generally assessed by means of a Dexa scan. Because ageing itself is one of the biggest risk factors for OP it is advised that all women aged 65 or older and all men aged 70 years or older should be screened for low BMD even in the absence of additional risk factors.

In younger patients the presence of other clinical risk factors for example early menopause, the use of glucocorticoids and concomitant conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis warrants screening.

It is however important to take note that even though BMD is used to screen for OP it has numerous limitations and the assessment of fracture risk should be an integrated approach and should not rely on BMD alone.

Fractures, of particularly (but not restricted to) the hip and spine, often lead to a vicious cycle of more fractures. Furthermore it leads to chronic pain, immobility, and disability in most instances. As a result patients every so often face loss of physical independence. Of patients with hip fracture 40 percent are unable to walk independently and 33 percent are totally dependent on family or care in a nursing home in the year following the fracture.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation’s theme of this year’s awareness campaign, “Love your bones – protect your future” calls on the general public to take early action to protect their bone and muscle health, in order to enjoy a good quality of life and independence in the

Dr. Ankia Coetzee
University of Stellenbosch