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.
The risk of future fractures rises with each new fracture – this is known as the ‘cascade effect’. For example: women who have suffered a fracture in their spine are over 4 times more likely to have another fracture within the next year. It is essential that osteoporosis is diagnosed and treated to prevent further fractures.