Osteoporosis in Australia
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis, or bone failure, is a chronic disease where the bones are slowly weakened over time. As a result, bones become fragile and are more likely to break even after minimal injury, such as a simple trip and fall. If left untreated, osteoporosis can have serious consequences for your overall health and quality of life. In fact, many people die after suffering an osteoporotic fracture.
How many people in Australia are affected by osteoporosis?
In 2018, 165,000 Australians broke bones because of osteoporosis, costing our health system almost $3 billion dollars. However, the overwhelming majority of people who suffer osteoporotic fragility fractures are neither investigated for osteoporosis, nor do they receive appropriate treatment for their disease.
This “osteoporosis care gap” affects 4 out of 5 people who have suffered a fragility fracture. As a consequence, many of these men and women experience further fractures, which lead to significant suffering, further illness and often premature death.
All of this happens despite the wide availability of effective and safe treatments that can improve bone health and reduce the risk of breaks.
"Any broken bone after the age of 50 is a warning sign for osteoporosis..."
Osteoporosis 'Red Flags'
Osteoporosis is a silent disease which means that there are many people who do not know that they have the disease until they break a bone.
Half of all women who suffer a hip fracture previously had a wrist fracture. Thus, first fractures are 'red flag' events that should trigger investigation and, if indicated, treatment to reduce the secondary fracture risk.
It is important to be able to recognise different red flags that could indicate that a person has osteoporosis. These include:
History of fractures that occurred after mild or moderate trauma (e.g., a fall from standing height or less)
Family history of osteoporosis
Low body weight
Height loss or progressive spinal curvature
Early menopause (before age 45)
People being treated with drugs that affect bone health (e.g., prednisone, cortisone)
Some endocrine disease such as overfunction of the thyroid (or treatment with high doses of thyroid hormone)
These are just some common red flags for osteoporosis but not a complete list. It is important to talk to your GP about your risk of developing Osteoporosis.
What can you do if you suffered a fracture and you are not sure if it is due to osteoporosis?
The most important things is to talk to your GP. Ask your doctor whether your break could have been due to weakened bones. If unsure, request a bone density measurement of ask about a referral to a “Fracture Liaison Service”.