Osteoporosis is the most common metabolic bone disease worldwide.  It is characterised by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue.  It is estimated that 6.2 million Australians have either osteoporosis or osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis).  This has risen dramatically from the 2012 figure of just over 4 million people. 

The implications of this are very significant.  We know that osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fracture and many of these fractures are from low trauma.  This means bones break under stresses that really should not cause them to break.  This leads to loss of mobility, pain, decreased quality of life and even death.  We know that 20% of women over 60 years of age who suffer a hip fracture die within 12 months of suffering that fracture.

So given, the fact that this affects, or will affect, about a quarter of our population and the downside is significant I thought it was worth a discussion. There are some things to be aware of that can leave you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.

Oestrogen deficiency and advancing age are the two greatest risk factors.  This leaves post-menopausal women are the greatest risk, particularly where menopause onset was earlier in life.  However, many men are affected so we need both men and women to be aware.

Other factors that may contribute to developing osteoporosis include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease
  • Low body weight
  • A number of medications including steroids, some antidepressants and some stomach acid suppressors
  • Calcium and / or vitamin D deficiency
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity

There are some things that can be done to help achieve better outcomes in osteoporosis.

As with most things diagnosis is an important starting point.  So, if you are over 50 and any of the above risk factors apply, it may be worth a conversation with your doctor.  Beyond this, if any of the above risk factors apply and can be modified then this is worth considering.  Reducing alcohol intake, stopping smoking and increasing weight bearing physical activity will slow any disease progression.  Getting adequate sun exposure to increase vitamin D levels end ensuring good dietary calcium intake is also very helpful.  I would probably caution against wholesale calcium supplementation for everyone.  Calcium supplementation in warranted in the right group of patients but is not necessarily recommended for everyone.  It is worth a chat with your doctor or one of our pharmacists to see if there is benefit in calcium supplementation for you.

There are also quite a number of medical treatments available through your doctor to help increase bone strength and reduce bone loss in diagnosed patients.

As we many things we raise in this forum, we are trying to raise awareness of conditions that affect many people living in our community and to help reduce the risk of poor health outcomes.  Ultimately, these little pieces of knowledge can change people’s lives.

World Osteporosis Day

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