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What is osteoporosis?

Understand the risk factors for brittle bones.

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.

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. Read on to understand the risk factors, and how bone density testing works.

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.

READ MORE: Osteoporosis in men

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

Bone density testing

So how do you know if you need to focus on your bone health? Osteoporosis 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 bones, 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.

Whether you need a bone density test or not, there are some things you can do to maintain strong and healthy bones. Read more on how you can increase bone density naturally

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