A friend in her late 30s, who began to learn driving with much enthusiasm, gave up midway after complaining of pain in the wrists and ankles. Much later, her doctor diagnosed her as osteoporotic. She has given up driving completely. She is among the 60 million people in the country who suffer from osteoporosis.

Last week, medical colleges and hospitals in the city organised a variety of programmes to mark World Osteoporosis Day. The theme, this year, was ‘Fractures: Stop at one. Make your first break the last’.

Continuing medical education programmes and screening camps were conducted to assess a person’s bone mineral density. Though it is known that women over the age of 50 years lose calcium from bones leading to weak joints, doctors say, men too, are just as affected.

After the age of 70, men and women have similar problems, doctors say. “Until they turn 50, women are protected but then hormonal changes set in and they begin to lose calcium from their bones,” says V. Singaravadivelu, associate professor, orthopaedics department at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. Back pain, a common complaint in women over the age of 50, could be a sign of osteoporosis, the professor says. “By the age of 30, we reach our peak for bone mass accumulation. After that, we start losing 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of our bone mass every year. In women, the sudden drop in bone mass is observed after menopause,” he says.

At the hospital, a fourth of the fractures that are attended to are due to osteoporosis. Yet awareness is low even among the medical fraternity, doctors say. It is not just calcium deficiency but also a deficiency of Vitamin D that plays an important role. Doctors advise exposure to sunlight for at least 15 minutes thrice in a week. “Expose the skin on your hands and face, at the least,” says Dr. Singaravadivelu. Exposure to sunlight helps the body to improve its Vitamin D levels necessary to accelerate absorption of calcium.

When a person has a fall, often he/she fails to return to the active life they led before the fall. This affects the person’s mobility and well-being, geriatrician B. Krishna Swami says. The commonest tendency, after a fall, is to stop walking, and without the much-needed exercise, the bones become weak. Some elderly persons simply stop walking for fear of falling. Add to this, the lack of exercise and exposure to sunlight. The result: poor appetite and failing nutrition. This is bound to take its toll on the bones.