The prevalence of osteoporosis is on the rise in the country, with one in every three women and one in every eight men suffering from the disease. By 2013, it is predicted that there will be 36 million people in the country who will be osteoporotic, according to Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics at Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research Jagdish Menon.

The disease is more prevalent among women, although the number of men with osteoporosis is on the increase. Since the disease has no symptoms unless it is too late, it is hard to detect until the patient fractures a bone, he said.

Osteoporosis refers to the decrease of bone density beyond a critical point. At this point, the bones are very weak and patients can get major fractures with a much smaller impact. The most common fractures for a patient with osteoporosis are those in the wrist, hip and the spine, he said.

Every person has a peak bone mass, which they attain at around 30 years of age. After this, the body starts losing bone mass at an average rate of 0.3 per cent every year. In women who have attained menopause, the bone loss is accelerated to around 3 per cent per year. When a person loses more than a certain amount of bone mass the bones become brittle, causing fragility fractures indicating osteoporosis, according to spine Surgeon Parthasarathy Srinivasan who has a consultation at S.S. Remedy Hospital.

If the peak bone mass that the person achieves is high, then even with the loss in bone mass, osteoporosis does not set in. To achieve this peak bone mass, it is important to introduce lifestyle changes at an early age, he said.

It is a common myth that once osteoporosis sets in, it is possible to treat it by increasing the calcium intake alone. Osteoporosis treatment however, requires a multidisciplinary approach. While it is possible to decrease the risk of fracture and to increase bone density, the disease requires constant monitoring.

Speaking to The Hindu , endocrinologist at the Indira Gandhi Government General Hospital S. Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy said there are five important steps that can help prevent osteoporosis: adequate calcium intake (through dairy products), adequate vitamin D (either as supplements or from spending at least 60 minutes a day in the sunlight), at least half an hour brisk walking a day, quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol.

According to orthopaedic surgeon S. Krishna Kumar, people who are at high risk are post menopausal women, people over the age of 65, people with hyperthyroidism and other hormonal imbalances and people who have been on steroids for years.