Are you at risk for Osteoporosis?


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Osteoporosis is a common disease in Australia with 1.2 million people estimated to have osteoporosis and further 6.3 million with low bone density.

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).

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’.

Anyone with specific risk factors for osteoporosis should be investigated by their doctor. Anyone over 50 who experiences a broken bone from a minor bump or fall should be investigated for osteoporosis

Fractures can lead to chronic pain, a loss of independence, disability and even premature death – so managing bone health to avoid fractures is a priority.

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.

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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.

Calcium and Vtamin 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

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

  • Smoking

  • Excessive alcohol intake

  • Weight – thin body build or excessive weight (recent studies suggest that hormones associated with obesity may impact bones)

How is bone health tested?

If your doctor thinks you are at risk of osteoporosis you will be referred for a bone density test. This simple scan measures the density of your bones at the hip and spine.  The scan only takes ten minutes and uses very low dose x-ray beams and you will remain clothed during the scan.  The results will indicate if your bone density is normal, mildly reduced or if you have osteoporosis.

How is osteoporosis treated?

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis your doctor will determine the best treatment based on your circumstances. Osteoporosis medications can reduce the risk of fractures by up to 60%.

What else is important?

You can take simple steps to help maintain your bone health at any age.  Calcium, Vitamin D and Exercise are all important for maintaining strong bones.

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