About Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?


Osteoporosis is a common condition affecting 1.2 million Australians in which bones become fragile and brittle leading to a higher risk of fractures, 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 density or mass).

Image: Close up of healthy bone (L) and osteoporotic bone (R)


Osteoporosis can lead to fractures

As bones become thinner and less dense, even a minor bump or fall can cause serious fractures. These are known as ‘minimal trauma’ fractures. 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, wrist, upper arm, ribs or forearm. Fractures in the spine due to osteoporosis can result in losing height or changes in posture (and in more serious cases it can result in a Dowager's hump in the back).

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.

Fractures can lead to chronic pain, disability, loss of independence and even premature death. So preventing fractures and managing bone health becomes a priority.


The Fracture Cascade

Managing and treating osteoporosis to prevent fractures is vitally important. This is because about 50% of people with one fracture due to osteoporosis will have another. And often a person’s osteoporosis is not diagnosed until after they experience their first fracture. The risk of future fractures rises with each new fracture - this is known as the 'cascade effect'.

For example: The 'cascade effect' means that women who have suffered a fracture in their spine are over 4 times more likely to have another fracture within the next year, compared to women who have never had an osteoporotic fracture.

The challenge remains identifying fractures caused by osteoporosis. For example two thirds of fractures of the spine are not identified or treated, even though they nearly all cause some pain. People  can mistakenly believe that the symptoms of spine fractures - back pain, height loss or rounding of the spine - are just due to 'older age'.

It is essential that fractures caused by osteoporosis are identified and osteoporosis is diagnosed and treated to prevent further fractures.



Approved by Osteoporosis Australia Medical & Scientific Advisory Committee

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:34


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