What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a common disease affecting over 1 million Australians. This disease makes bones become brittle leading to a higher risk of breaks than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, causing a loss of bone thickness (bone density or mass).
Osteoporosis can lead to fractures
As bones become thinner and less dense, even a minor bump or fall can cause a serious fracture. A ‘fracture’ is a complete or partial break in a bone. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common sites are the hip, spine and wrist. Fractures in the spine due to osteoporosis can result in height loss or changes in posture. Osteoporosis usually has no symptoms until a fracture occurs this is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’.
Who is at Risk?
Both men and women may have certain ‘risk factors’ that can make them more likely to develop osteoporosis. People should discuss risk factors with their doctor, and anyone over 50 with risk factors may require a bone density scan.
Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because of the rapid decline in oestrogen levels during menopause. When oestrogen levels decrease, bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate. As a result a bone loss of approximately 2% per year occurs for several years after menopause.
Men also lose bone as they age, however testosterone levels in men decline more gradually so their bone mass remains adequate till later in life.
1. Your family history
Bone health can be strongly inherited so consider your family history of osteoporosis. It is important to note if anyone in your family (particularly parents or siblings) has ever been diagnosed with osteoporosis, broken a bone from a minor fall or rapidly lost height. These can indicate low bone density.
2. Your calcium and vitamin D levels
Low calcium intake – adults require 1,000 mg per day (preferably through diet) which increases to 1,300 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70
Low vitamin D levels – a lack of sun exposure can mean you are not getting enough vitamin D which your body needs to absorb calcium
3. Your medical history
Certain conditions and medications can impact on your bone health.
- Corticosteroids – commonly used for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Low hormone levels – in women: early menopause; in men: low testosterone
- Thyroid conditions – over active thyroid or parathyroid
- Conditions leading to malabsorption eg: coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease
- Some chronic diseases eg: rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease
- Some medicines for breast cancer, prostate cancer, epilepsy and some antidepressants
- Lifestyle factors
- Low levels of physical activity
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Weight – thin body build or excessive weight (recent studies suggest that hormones associated with obesity may impact bones)
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone density scan (commonly known as a bone density test). It is a simple scan that measures the density of your bones, usually at the hip and spine. You simply lie flat on a padded table and the arm of the machine passes over your body. The scan takes approximately 10-15 minutes. You remain clothed during the scan. Your GP will first assess your risk factors for osteoporosis before referring you for a test.
Who should have a bone density scan?
Men and women over 50 with risk factors may need a bone check up with a bone density scan. If your bone density is low, you are more likely to fracture a bone in the future. Some risk factors may also require people under 50 to have a bone density scan.
The sooner you find out if you have low bone density or osteoporosis the better, you need to know as early as possible to manage your bone health. Finding out this information means you and your doctor can take action to keep your bones strong, slow bone loss and reduce the risk of breaks.
What will the result tell me? A bone density scan will determine if any action is needed to improve your bone health. The result will indicate if your bones are in the range of either:
- Low bone density (called osteopenia) or
This information has been obtained from the Osteoporosis Website. Please visit their site at the link below for further information.