Let’s Talk… Osteoporosis

You and I are lucky to be living in a time when people can expect to live longer and healthier.

Thanks to modern medicine, we’re more likely to reach our eighties and lead more independent, longer lives than previous generations.

Because we have an ageing population, we all need to be very aware of the diseases and conditions that are more common as we get older.

Osteoporosis can sneak up on us as we age, so we need to know the risk factors and understand how to get help and advice when we’re concerned.

Let’s talk about it.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common, long-term disease that makes your bones more likely to break.

It’s caused by a decrease in your bone density when you lose too much bone mass and changes occur in the structure of your bone tissue. Everyone’s bones become weaker as they get older. For people with osteoporosis, this happens too quickly and sometimes rather early.

Osteoporosis is common in Australia. One in two women and one in three men over 60 will have a fracture from osteoporosis. It can affect any bone but the most common breaks are hip, wrist and spine, followed by ankle, leg, forearm, upper arm and rib. These breaks often happen after a minor trip or fall, when they are called “low trauma fractures.”

Even a simple break can affect your ongoing mobility and independence.

What are the symptoms?

Osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’ – there are usually no symptoms until the first fracture happens.

Who’s more at risk?

You’re more at risk of having osteoporosis if you:

  • are over 50
  • are a menopausal or post-menopausal woman
  • have a family history of osteoporosis
  • have low intake of calcium or vitamin D
  • aren’t physically active
  • are a smoker
  • drink alcohol excessively
  • have either a thin or obese body build

Certain health conditions can also increase your risk:

  • low hormone levels
  • thyroid conditions
  • coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease
  • anorexia nervosa
  • diabetes
  • HIV

Some medications can also affect your bone health. Ask your doctor for advice on these.

How is it diagnosed?

If you have osteoporosis risk factors, your doctor may refer you for a bone density scan. This special type of x-ray (DEXA) measures the bone mineral density in your spine and hip, and sometimes in your wrist.

The scan report will give you a ‘T- score’.

If your T- score is between -1 and -2.5 you have low bone density (osteopenia).

A T- score of -2.5 or below means you have osteoporosis.

How is it treated?

There is no complete cure for osteoporosis. Your doctor will use your T- score together with your other health and lifestyle information to assess your overall risk for a bone fracture.

If your risk is higher-than-average, your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you on to a specialist.

Osteoporosis medications work over the long term to help improve your bone strength.

Your doctor may also recommend:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for women
  • calcium supplements
  • vitamin D supplements
  • certain exercise regimes
  • learning how to lower your risk of falling

When should I see my doctor?

Don’t wait until you break a bone, especially if you’re over 50. If you’re worried or have questions about your risk of getting osteoporosis (for instance, if someone in your close family is diagnosed with it) see your GP to talk through your concerns.

Your GP can answer all your questions, do an osteoporosis risk assessment, recommend next steps and refer you for testing if needed.

If testing’s not needed yet, your GP can advise you on what you can do to help prevent osteoporosis including:

  • building a safe plan for bone-strengthening exercises
  • eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods
  • making sure you get enough vitamin D through sun exposure (without damaging your skin) or through Vitamin D supplements

We’re here to help. Want to know more about osteoporosis and your risks? Book online to visit your Caroline Springs doctor consulting from Active Medical or call 03 9363 0954.

Find out more:

Healthy Bones Australia

Health Direct