What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become fragile, leading to a higher risk of fractures (or breaks) than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to a loss of bone thickness (bone mass or density). As a result bones become thinner and less dense so that even a minor bump or fall can result in a fracture.
What is low bone density (osteopenia)?
Low bone density is known as osteopenia. This is the range of bone density between normal and diagnosed osteoporosis, which means you need to take action to support your bone health. If you are found to have osteopenia your doctor will ensure you have adequate calcium and vitamin D, and recommend exercise for your bone health.
Your doctor will also review any risk factors you may have for osteoporosis and any other diseases / medications which may be impacting on your bone health. Lifestyle changes may also be recommended e.g. stop smoking, avoid excessive alcohol intake.
What is 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 of this test show if your bones are in the range of normal, low bone density or osteoporosis. You doctor will review any risk factors you may have for osteoporosis before referring you for a bone density scan. Medicare rebates apply for many (but not all) cases.
Who gets osteoporosis? Can it be treated?
Over 1 million Australians have osteoporosis. It affects both men and women and is most common is adults over 50. Osteoporosis can be treated and there a range of medications available in Australia. It is most important that osteoporosis is detected as early as possible to ensure bone health is managed to prevent fractures.
If I have been diagnosed with osteoporosis what normally happens?
You will be started on osteoporosis medication. The aim of medication is to slow bone loss and reduce the risk of fracture. Your doctor will also ensure you have adequate calcium and vitamin D, and a supervised exercise program will be recommended. Your bone health will be closely monitored.
Can osteoporosis be prevented?
Yes, in many cases by looking after your bones as part of your general health. Your bones require calcium, vitamin D and exercise on a regular basis. Habits like smoking and excessive alcohol intake are bad for bones. It is also important to be aware of particular risk factors for low bone density. Risk factors include: family history of osteoporosis, low calcium and vitamin D levels and some conditions or medications. If you have any of the risk factors speak to your doctor (see risk factors).