OSTEOPOROSIS; a personal perspective.


As a GP I have been aware of osteoporosis, mostly in elderly female patients, for a long time. As the sole female partner in the practice I took a particular interest in women's health and therefore kept up to date with changes in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.  In the days of my training there really was no treatment but the condition is now far better understood and in many cases can be prevented with simple management once the risk is identified.


From a personal point of view I was saddened to see my mother who was also a GP, showing more and more obvious signs of the condition.  First came the general shortening in height as her vertebrae became smaller, then the curvature of the spine started causing a pronounced forward bend. By the time she died at 87 her ribs were virtually touching the front of her pelvis!


This was just the beginning however because then came some very unpleasant fractures.  She was hurrying to go with my father to the dentist when she slipped and fell in the hallway, fracturing her wrist so badly that the bones broke through the skin and the Orthopaedic surgeon was unable to screw the bones together as they were shattered.  She was left with a deformed, useless wrist.


This was followed by several spinal fractures which caused enormous pain and required a spell in a nursing home. Up until then she had been totally independent, driving, shopping, cooking and looking after my father at home, not to mention the love of her life, gardening.  Unfortunately she was unable to return home after this. We moved her to a Northampton care home in order to help look after her and my Dad.


Finally there was a slip off the bed one evening at the care home and she had shattered her hip in several places.  Treatment at Northampton General Hospital by a wonderful team in Orthopaedics allowed her to return to the home but she was never able to walk more than a few steps after this and spent most of the rest of her life in bed or a chair.


Family history is a very important risk factor in Osteoporosis but it wasn't until Nick Birch operated on my spine and commented that my bones looked thin, that I thought I could be at risk. I was in my late 40s so I arranged for a DEXA scan at the research unit at Leicester (this facility no longer exists). My bones were Osteopeanic (starting to thin) so since then I have been making sure I have enough Calcium in my diet and I take vitamin D supplements each day to keep my bones healthy. I do very regular weight bearing exercise and I have also had regular scans privately to monitor my bone health - there is no other way to be sure as the NHS does not provide this service.


Our bones naturally become thinner as we get older but some of us are prone to earlier deterioration. If we are aware of our personal risk we can take control and prevent further fractures.  I am determined to stay active and healthy as long as possible.


Helen Coghill