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Osteoporosis explained

More than one million Australians have osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak and fragile, increasing the likelihood of fractures. However, since most people do not have any symptoms or pain, they do not know that they have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture.

2 min read

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis develops when your bones lose minerals faster than your body replaces them, so that your bones become fragile and brittle. The more fragile your bones are, the more likely they are to fracture or break. A minor incident that might normally result in a bruise or a scratch in a healthy adult can cause a fracture or break in someone with osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis can significantly affect day-to-day activities. Just over one-third of people with osteoporosis experience some limitations to their core activities and 15% experience severe restrictions in their daily life. 

Effective medicines are available to treat osteoporosis and help avoid fractures. Improving your diet and lifestyle and reducing your risk of falls can also help.

Complications of osteoporosis

The most common osteoporotic fractures happen in the hips, spine and wrists. These types of fractures can cause long-term pain, disability and loss of independence.

Osteoporotic fractures that occur in the spine can also lead to changes in your posture (eg, stooped back) and loss of height.

Who is at risk of osteoporosis?

Those at higher risk of osteoporosis include postmenopausal women and older people.

Postmenopausal women are at particular risk because after menopause their bodies produce less of the female sex hormone, oestrogen, which plays an important role in maintaining bone strength.

Many other factors, including your lifestyle, diet, family history and having certain medical conditions, can affect your bones and increase osteoporosis risk, as can the long-term use of some medicines (eg, corticosteroids).

Diagnosing osteoporosis

A diagnosis of osteoporosis needs to be confirmed by a doctor. If you are at high risk of osteoporosis, or your doctor thinks you already have it, they may suggest a test called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA/DEXA) scan to measure your bone mineral density (BMD). This test is quick and painless, like an X-ray.

The scan produces a result called a T-score which shows how different your BMD is from the BMD of an average young adult. 

  • If you have osteoporosis, your T-score will be –2.5 or lower. The lower your T-score, the more brittle your bones are, and the greater your risk of fracture.
  • If your bones are weaker than normal, but your T-score is not low enough for an osteoporosis diagnosis, then the doctor may tell you that you have osteopenia (this means the protein and mineral content of your bone tissue is reduced, but less severely than in osteoporosis).

A diagnosis of osteopenia is an early warning sign that you should be taking action to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Managing osteoporosis

There are a number of ways to help manage your osteoporosis and prevent fractures, including:
  • taking osteoporosis medicines
  • ensuring that you obtain sufficient calcium and/or vitamin D 
  • making lifestyle changes
  • reducing your risk of falls.
Speak with your doctor about the treatment options most suitable for your situation.

Find out more about managing osteoporosis.

2 min read

Date published: 19 January 2017
Reasonable care is taken to provide accurate information at the time of creation. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not be exclusively relied on to manage or diagnose a medical condition. NPS MedicineWise disclaims all liability (including for negligence) for any loss, damage or injury resulting from reliance on or use of this information. Read our full disclaimer. This website uses cookies. Read our privacy policy.