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Getting down to the bare bones of osteoporosis

24 January 2013

Health Care

There are not many health conditions where fat is beautiful – but a little extra weight can be a definite bonus in guarding against the bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis.

Delegates to a symposium on 'fighting falls and fragility fractures' at Southend University Hospital heard how a slender build and low body weight are risk factors for the debilitating condition which affects nearly three million people in the UK.

Others include:

  • Family history of broken hip
  • Long-term steroid use
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Disorders of the endocrine system, eg overactive thyroid
  • Poor absorption of nutrients
  • History of anorexia nervosa
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excess alcohol consumption 

The hospital event brought together hospital doctors and nurses, GPs and other healthcare workers such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists and featured a.range of speakers including Janet Husk from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Fiona Rochford from the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) and Southend University Hospital doctors Dr John Whitear, specialist in elderly care, Professor Bhaskar Dasgupta, consultant rheumatologist and clinical lead for osteoporosis.

Prof Dasgupta highlighted the importance of investigating the possibility of the disease in patients sustaining 'fragility fractures' (breaking a bone in a fall of standing height or less) to prevent them  going on to a more serious fall.

He warned: "One third of patients with hip fractures die within 12 months."

He also emphasised the importance of a good, calcium-rich diet and weight-bearing exercise to improve bone density.

"We all need to work together to try to combat the disease. A simple diagnosis of a fracture is not good enough. We need to say specifically if it is a normal trauma fracture or a fragility fracture, in which case we need to put the patient on appropriate treatment."

The hospital employs a dedicated fracture prevention clinical nurse specialist, Pam Long, who helped to organise the event with colleagues Kate Chapman, falls practitioner, and Victoria Mitchell, falls nurse.

Pam said: "I liaise with most patients who come in with fragility fractures and assess their risk of going on to break more bones. Some weeks I may get up to 50 referrals of patients who need special help. It is really important that they are identified as these breaks can be very painful and debilitating. They also cost the NHS a lot of money in treatment and bed days and we need to do all we can to prevent them.

"It is an area which has been somewhat neglected in the past, so we are determined to raise awareness."


With pic: Left to right Vicky Mitchell, falls nurse; Janet Husk, RCP; Fiona Rochford, NOS; Dr John Whitear, associate specialist in elderly care; falls practitioner Kate Chapman and Pam Long, fracture prevention nurse specialist.