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Green arrow pointing to subject menu What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become fragile and brittle, and can fracture more easily than normal bones. Even minor falls can cause serious fractures. 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men over 60 will have a fracture due to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis and fractures are major causes of injury, long term disability and even death in older Australians.

Green arrow pointing to subject menu How common is osteoporosis?

The incidence of osteoporosis is increasing, primarily as people live longer and the population ages.

  • It is predicted that by 2010, 1 in 3 hospital beds will be occupied by elderly women with fractures (Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study)
  • It has been calculated that by 2011, hip fractures in Australia will have increased by 83% (National Research Institute of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Melbourne).

Green arrow pointing to subject menu What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is different from most other diseases or common illnesses in that there is no one single cause. The overall health of a person’s bones is determined by:

• Your genes
• Nutrition (especially calcium and vitamin D)
• Hormonal activity
• Exercise

These factors determine how well the bones form in early adulthood (peak bone mass). After this, prevention of bone loss becomes the most important.

Anything, which leads to decreased formation of bone early in life, or loss of bone structure later in life, may lead to osteoporosis and fragile bones, which can then fracture.

Green arrow pointing to subject menu Preventing osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is largely preventable for many people. Prevention of this disease is very important because, while there are treatments for osteoporosis, there is currently no cure. There are several steps to prevent osteoporosis. No one step alone is enough to prevent osteoporosis but in combination they will all help.

These steps include:

  • A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Weight-bearing and strengtheneng exercises
  • Undertake a moderate, regular exercise program and stick with it
  • Bone density testing and medications when appropriate
  • Stop smoking
  • Get proper amounts of calcium generally recommended to be 1000 to 1500 mg/day for postmenopausal women
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Women should discuss oestrogen replacement with their physicians where appropriate
  • Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. 400-800 IU per day is recommended. Direct exposure to sunlight (during winter), fortified dairy products, egg yolks, saltwater fish and cod liver oil are good sources.

Green arrow pointing to subject menu Osteoporosis - Fact Sheets

These fact sheets are also available in five different languages - Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Vietnamese, and are downloadable from the Osteoporosis Australia website

Green arrow pointing to subject menu Are you at risk?

Risk factors are similar in men and women:

  • Advanced age
  • Family history
  • Small or thin build
  • Low levels of oestrogen (women) or testosterone (men)
  • Low calcium and vitamin D intake and/or absorption
  • Physical inactivity or excessive exercise
  • Taking Corticosteroids, Thyroid Medications, Anticonvulsants or Anticoagulants
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol and caffeine
  • Chronic diseases of kidney, lung, stomach and intestines
  • Early menopause


Green arrow pointing to subject menu Know whether you are at risk of osteoporosis - Take action and do the Osteoporosis 1 minute risk test

1. Have either of your parents broken a hip after a minor bump or fall? Yes/No
2. Have you broken a bone after a minor bump or fall? Yes/No
3. For women: Did you undergo menopause before the age of 45? Yes/No
4. For women: Have your periods stopped for 12 months or more
(other than because of pregnancy)?
5. For men: Have you ever suffered from impotence, lack of libido
or other symptoms related to low testosterone levels?
6. Have you taken corticosteroid tablets (cortisone, prednisone, etc)
for more than 3 months?
7. Have you lost more than 3cm (1 inch) in height? Yes/No
8. Do you regularly drink heavily (in excess of safe drinking limits)? Yes/No
9. Do you smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day? Yes/No
10. Do you suffer frequently from diarrhoea (caused by problems
such as coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease)?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be at risk of getting osteoporosis and it is recommended that you consult your doctor.

Take this checklist with you and your doctor will advise if further tests are necessary.

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This page was last modified on Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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