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Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common disease affecting over 1 million Australians. This disease makes bones become 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, causing a loss of bone thickness (bone density).

Osteoporosis can lead to fractures

Osteoporosis can lead to minimal trauma fractures. As bones become thinner and less dense, even a minor bump or fall can cause a serious fracture. 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'. 

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 sooner you find out if you have low bone density or osteoporosis the better, you need to know as early as possible to manage your bone health. Finding out this information means you and your doctor can take action to keep your bones strong, slow bone loss and reduce the risk of breaks.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone density test. It is a simple scan that measures the density of your bones, usually at the hip and spine. You simply lie flat on a padded table and the arm of the machine passes over your body. The scan takes approximately 10-15 minutes. You remain clothed during the scan. Your GP will first assess your risk factors for osteoporosis before referring you for a test.

Who should have a bone density test?

Men and women over 50 with risk factors may need a bone check up with a bone density scan. If your bone density is low, you are more likely to fracture a bone in the future. Some risk factors may also require people under 50 to have a bone density scan.

There are 3 places in Hobart that you can have your bone density test done - Women's Imaging, Menzies, and Calvary Regional Imaging. Your GP can refer you to the practice that you prefer.

Medicare rebates apply for many, but not all people who will require a bone density scan. Your doctor will advise if you are eligible for a Medicare rebate. Some private health funds provide a reimbursement (please check with your fund). Medicare rebates for a bone density scan apply for those:

  • Previously diagnosed with osteoporosis
  • With one or more previous fractures from a minor incident
  • Taking corticosteroids (common for asthma)
  • Women with early menopause
  • Men with low testosterone
  • Individuals with coeliac disease (or other malabsorption conditions), overactive thyroid or parathyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, liver or kidney disease
  • If you are aged 70 years or over

To self-assess your bone health now, go to https://www.knowyourbones.org.au/

How do I keep my bones healthy?

  1. Calcium

Glebe Hill Family Practice recommends that you get your recommended daily intake of calcium through dietary sources. To get your recommended daily intake of calcium you need 3-5 serves of calcium rich foods every day (milk, cheese, yoghurt, nuts, some green vegetables, chick peas, tofu, and so on). When this is not possible a supplement may be required. Supplementation of 500-600mg per day is considered safe and effective. 

  1. Vitamin D

Adequate vitamin D levels, achieved through sun exposure and supplementation, are important for bone health. Many Tasmanians are vitamin D deficient. Talk to your GP about how to make sure you're getting adequate vitamin D. Click here to go to the Tasmanian Public Health information about Vitamin D.

  1. Exercise

Specific types of exercise are important for improving bone strength:

  • Weight bearing exercise (exercise done while on your feet so you bear your own weight). For example: jogging, skipping, basketball / netball, tennis, dancing, impact aerobics, stair walking
  • Progressive resistance training (becomes more challenging over time). For example: lifting weights - hand / ankle weights or gym equipment

The ability of an exercise to build bone (osteogenic capacity) depends on the specific way that stress is applied to the bone during the exercise. certain exercises like walking, swimming and cycling may be good for general health but have little benefit to bone health. 

If you would like to make sure you're safely achieving the right types and levels of exercise to maintain your bone strength, consider seeing an Exercise Physiologist.

Protect your future! If you’re at risk, talk to your GP about diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis!

This information was sourced from Osteoporosis Australia.