What is osteoporosis?

We take a look at the basics of this brittle bones condition, and ways to help prevent it.

Over 1 million Australians currently have osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become thin and fragile, leading to a higher risk of fractures and breaks. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to a loss of bone density.

This condition can be treated with a range of medications, which can help to slow the rate of bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Your doctor will also make dietary suggestions to ensure you are consuming enough calcium and vitamin D, and can recommend an exercise program. Osteoporosis Australia says it is important that low bone density is detected as early as possible, so that your bone health can be monitored and managed.

Osteoporosis risk factors

First, it’s important to understand your risk of osteoporosis. Both men and women can develop osteoporosis, but it is most common in women over 50. Females are at a greater risk 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, women’s bones lose density at a rate of around 2 per cent a year for several years after menopause.

For men, age-related hormonal changes also impact bone density, but because testosterone levels in men decline more gradually, bone mass is more likely to remain adequate.

As well as age and gender, your family history, medical history and lifestyle factors can also impact your bone density. Some other risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Low calcium intake
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Low body weight
  • Obesity
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Use of medications such as corticosteroids, some antidepressants, and some epilepsy medications
  • Low hormone levels
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions relating to malabsorption
  • Some chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or chronic liver or kidney disease

Read more about osteporosis risk factors at Osteoporosis Australia.

Bone density testing

So how do you know if you need to focus on your bone health? Osteporosis Australia advises that you review your risk factors with your doctor, and if there is any concern your doctor will refer you to have a bone density test. A bone density test is a simple scan that measures the density of your ones, usually at the hip and spine. The results will show if your bones are in the normal range, a low bone density range (known as osteopenia), or if you have osteoporosis.

New national bone health resources

Osteoporosis Australia has launched a new national health website, providing valuable information for all Australians on improving their bone health. Resources include a services directory, an Ask the Expert section, and detailed fact sheets on topics related to bone health – including this 24-page guide to understanding osteoporosis.

For anyone with low bone density, or who thinks they might need to focus more on their calcium or vitamin D intake, or who has any of the risk factors listed above, this new website is a useful resource to get you started on the path to stronger, healthier bones.

Find out more about osteoporosis and bone health at osteoporosis.org.au

Keep those bones strong! 

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