Osteoporosis has been called the “silent disease” and that was all too true in my case. I had been participating in combat sports, doing sit-ups at twice weekly visits to the gym – whilst walking around with the bones of an 80 year old woman!

Ciara S., IrelandI was a 23 year old college graduate full of energy. I regarded myself as leading a healthy active life; I didn’t smoke, ate healthy food and was training hard to keep fit. In reality I had neglected my nutrition to a degree where my bone mineral density was critically low: it was time to take action.

My first realization that something was amiss was when I attended my local G.P. following a period spent traveling overseas. She was immediately concerned about my weight-loss; at 5 foot and 5 inches tall, I was under 7 and a half stone and clinically underweight. I had noticed it also, but had attributed it to the traveling and skipping meals with erratic eating habits. She asked me in depth about my diet which revealed that I was eating fewer and fewer dairy and egg products. Since I was already a lacto-ovo vegetarian, this concerned her. She revealed that I was doing too much exercise for the amount of calories I was taking in. And, she could see another worrying change taking place. I had noticed skipped periods which I had put down to exam stress, however during traveling they never returned. In total I had experienced cessation of periods for over a year and a half. Based on this information, my G.P. advised me to get a DXA scan as quickly as possible – this was the first time I had 19 been informed of the connection between diet, exercise, hormonal imbalances (particularly estrogen) and osteoporosis.

My G.P. mentioned that the Anatomy Department of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) was researching the association between eating disorders amongst teenagers and the incidence of osteoporosis. They agreed for me to take a scan within a week. My lumbar spine and both hips were scanned and I received my results approximately 10 minutes later. The results shocked me. I remember walking over the cobblestones of Trinity College in disbelief – I had osteoporosis in my lumbar spine, with a T-Score of less than -2.5 (anything above -1.0 is considered normal when compared with normative values based on age and gender). My hips displayed moderate osteopaenia; with a score of -1.7 my left hip was worse than my right.

I discussed the results with a specialist, Professor Moira O’Brien, who advised me on treatment, but stressed the importance of lifestyle change. I started taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, as well as half a litre of milk, which in total amounted to 1000 mg calcium and 800 IU vitamin D. I was given a prescription for HRT, which was subsequently changed to a low dose contraceptive pill due to complications. I am still taking these medications 18 months later. Regarding lifestyle changes, I have cut down on combat sport and have focused on more moderate exercise. In addition I have cut down on caffeine and reduced alcohol intake. My eating patterns have improved and I take a more varied diet which includes dairy products.

Six months ago, almost one year post diagnosis, a follow up DXA scan showed very positive improvements. The osteoporosis in my lumbar spine had improved to moderate osteopaenia and my hips were within the normal range. As changes in bone density are generally slow to occur, this was a very encouraging result.

I have joined the Irish Osteoporosis Society and am learning of the huge amount of work they are putting into educating the general public about the risk factors of osteoporosis.

My parents and friends were shocked that I had what they perceived an “old woman’s disease” – they could not believe that such an apparently healthy, active and young person could have this condition. Even amongst sufferers of osteoporosis, who will know the risk factors and etiology of the disease, there is still the misconception that it only affects older women.

This personal story was contributed to the World Osteoporosis Day campaign in 2006

Read more stories of people with osteoporosis.