Sarcopenia: New disease affects thousands

Australia's leading expert on ageing and musculoskeletal research says too many doctors are "ignorant" about the muscle-wasting disease Sarcopenia.

There's a "new" disease on the block and its name is Sarcopenia - a muscle-wasting condition that affects one in three Australians over the age of 60.

The loss of muscle mass as we age is normal. Usually people aged 30 and over lose about four to five per cent every year.

But for some. they lose much more, affecting their function and quality of life.

Australia's leading expert on the condition and musculoskeletal research, Professor Gustavo Duque from the University of Melbourne, says Sarcopenia is excessive muscle loss associated with poor muscle function.

It is "to muscles what osteoporosis is to bones" yet doctors are often "ignorant" of the condition that has major implications for thousands of older Australians, according to Prof Duque.

That is hopefully all about to change soon.

In October this year, Sarcopenia was given its own ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) code in the US after being recognised by the World Health Organisation, making it easier to research the condition.

This process is expected to be mirrored in Australia by mid-2017.

Research has shown Sarcopenia leads to a higher risk of fractures and falls, and is associated with diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney failure, heart failure, vitamin D deficiency, and in men, loss of testosterone.

"People progressively lose the capacity to do the things that they usually do and they don't know why," said Prof Duque, who is leading a push for greater recognition in Australia.

A lack of classification has meant that there has been no agreed "normal" rate of age-related muscle loss to benchmark against and no guidelines for doctors to diagnose or treat, Prof Duque said.

"Sarcopenia really is a disease with an identity crisis, but we are working to change that over the next few months."

Currently Sarcopenia is treated with specialised exercise programs, protein supplements and vitamin D.

Prof Duque is also leading clinical trials, out of Melbourne's Sunshine Hospital, on a new drug that uses anti-myostatin antibodies. Myostatins are proteins that curb muscle growth.

"It's only in recent years that we know that muscle mass is not necessarily correlated with strength or performance, and this is a critical insight as we look for drugs to treat this condition," he said.

3 min read
Published 10 November 2016 at 1:40pm
Source: AAP