What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common condition affecting over 1 million Australians in which bones become fragile and brittle leading to a higher risk of fractures. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to a loss of bone thickness.

As bones become thinner, even a minor bump or fall can cause serious fractures. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common sites are the hip, spine, wrist, upper arm, ribs or forearm. Fractures in the spine due to osteoporosis can result in losing height or changes in posture.

What causes Osteoporosis?

There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of osteoporosis including:

  • A genetic disposition, family history of the disease
  • A low calcium intake can cause osteoporosis, adults require 1,000 mg per day (preferably through diet) and this increases to 1,300 mg per day in women over 50 and men over 70
  • A lack of sun exposure can cause a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium.Certain conditions and medications can increase impact on your bone health
  • Corticosteroids medication – commonly used for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
  • Delayed puberty or early menopause in women
  • Low testosterone in men
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Conditions leading to malabsorption (celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Some chronic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease)
  • Some medicines for breast cancer, prostate cancer, epilepsy and some antipsychotics
  • 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)
What are the symptoms?

Osteoporosis usually has no symptoms until a fracture occurs – this is why osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’.

It is therefore very important for anyone with specific risk factors for osteoporosis to be investigated by their doctor. It is also important for anyone over 50 who experiences a fracture from a minor bump or fall to be investigated to check if the fracture was caused by osteoporosis.