Osteoporosis is a common disease that affects many Australians. A loss of bone density and bony material results in the bone becoming more brittle and an increased likelihood of fracture. It is commonly referred to as a “silent” disease as there are no obvious symptoms of bone loss until an osteoporotic fracture occurs. The most common sites of osteoporotic fracture include hip fractures and vertebral (spine) fractures.
What is osteoporosis?
Our bones are constantly changing with peak bone mass occurring in the early 20s. As we get older, some of our bone cells begin to dissolve whilst new bony material is formed. Bone loss occurs when the loss of bone outweighs the development of new bony material. In its most mild form, this is referred to as osteopenia but can progress to osteoporosis with further bony material loss. Whilst osteoporosis can affect any bone, the most common bone which are affected include the femur (hip), spine and wrist.
What are the risk factors for the development of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis can affect both men and women. Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis following the rapid decline of oestrogen during menopause.
There are many risk factors that can make someone more prone to bone loss and osteoporosis. These risk factors should be discussed with your medical professional.
Bone health can be inherited. Take a note if parents or siblings have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Calcium and Vitamin D:
Calcium and Vitamin D are crucial for the development of new bony material. Low calcium intake and reduced Vitamin D are risk factors that increase the likelihood of bone loss.
A range of lifestyle factors affect bone density. These include low or reduced physical activity (especially weight bearing exercise). Smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine can also affect bone density negatively.
There are also a range of medical conditions and medications that can adversely affect bone density. These include but are not limited to the use of corticosteroids, low hormone levels, some chronic conditions and conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients such as inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease.
A trusted medical professional such as your General Practitioner is well placed to discuss the risk factors that may contribute to the development of osteoporosis.
How do I know if I have osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis can be diagnosed with a simple and non-invasive bone density scan (DEXA scan). It is a simple test that measures the bone density of your femur (hip) and spine. Following a referral from your GP it takes approximately 15 – 20 minutes and you remain fully clothed throughout the scan.
The sooner low bone density is identified the better the outcome. Your GP can assist in taking action to keep your bones as strong as possible and reduce further deterioration in bone density. (Link to next article – “What to do if you have osteoporosis)
Who should have a bone density scan?
It is strongly advised that men and women over the age of 50 who are affected by the risk factors of osteoporosis have a scan. Those over the age of 70 are highly recommended to have their bone density closely monitored and assessed.
Additionally, anyone who has experienced a fracture from a minor incident or fall should be investigated.
There are many steps that can be taken to prevent and diagnose osteoporosis. Importantly it is a treatable condition that can be managed with a combination of lifestyle factors and in some cases medication that can reduce the likelihood of fractures. If you are worried about your bone density, speak to your local GP or medical professional.
Learn more about osteoporosis in Episode 3 of The Better Ageing Podcast:
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