What is osteoporosis?
In osteoporosis the bones lose their strength and are more likely to break (fracture) often following a minor fall. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 experience fractures, mostly as a result of low bone strength.the wrists, hips and spine are the most commonly affected sites.
What causes osteoporosis?
Age - osteoporosis increases as we get older also the risk of fractures increase as we are more prone to falls.
Genetics - if your parents had osteoporosis or broke a hip then your risk is increased.
Gender - Osteoporosis is more common in women than men this is because men tend to have thicker bones than women and also once women go through the menopause their ovaries stop producing oestrogen which keeps bones strong.
Smoking - smoking directly weakens bones, women who smoke go through menopause earlier which increases the risk further. Smokers tend also to be thinner which also increases the risk.
Low body weight - low body weight makes osteoporosis and fractures more likely because you have lower amounts of bone tissue overall.
Alcohol - excessive alcohol is a significant risk factor for osteoporosis and fractures.
Health problems - osteoporosis may be associated with an overactive thyroid gland, low testosterone levels, coeliac disease and various chronic inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Medications - various medications such as steroids (prednisolone)
Although X-rays may give the impression that your bones are thin, osteoporosis can only be diagnosed with a bone density scan (arranged through your GP). Screening for osteoporosis with a bone density scan is recommended for over 50s with risk factors and for all over the age of 70.
Prevention of osteoporosis involves reducing risk factors where possible - eg stopping smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. In addition ensuring that you have adequate levels of Vitamin D, calcium and exercize. We get the majority of our vitamin D through sun exposure - depending our skin type and where we live in Australia different exposure levels are needed to maintain the vitamin D levels. Adults need 1000mg of calcium/day increasing to 1300mg for women over 50 and men over 70. The Healthy Bones Australia website gives useful dietary advice as to how to get this together with exercize information. Sometimes your doctor may recommend a calcium and/or vitamin D supplement.
Treatment of established osteoporosis may involve medication in addition to the preventative strategies outlined above. There are a variety of different medications which work on either reducing the breakdown of bones or increasing the rebuilding of bone structure. They range from daily tablets to once a year infusions - your doctor will discuss with you the best option for your particular situation.