About Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common disease in Australia, with 1.2 million people estimated to have osteoporosis and a further 6.3 million with low bone density. This section explains osteoporosis and reviews common risk factors and diagnosis.

Our information guide and specific fact sheets to view or download within the ‘resources’ section.

What is osteoporosis?

When the structure of bone is compromised and becomes weaker and less dense, the bone has an increased risk of breaking. This is osteoporosis.

Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis. However, osteoporosis tends to affect particular sites within the skeleton, not the whole skeleton. Research has shown the common sites where broken bones occur are the hip, wrist and spine. Other sites include the ankle, leg, forearm, upper arm and ribs. These fractures typically occur after a minor trip, fall or similar incident. 

Healthy bone
Severe osteoporosis

Broken bones can occur in patients with either osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone density). Once a fracture occurs, the person is considered at much higher risk of another fracture. 

The aim of early diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis (and managing osteopenia) is to prevent any initial fracture from occurring. If a fracture occurs, treatment’s main aim is to reduce the likelihood of more fractures.  

How common is osteoporosis?

Over 1 million Australians have osteoporosis. Of those aged 50 years and over, 66% have osteoporosis or osteopenia. There are over 183,000 broken bones each year due to poor bone health.

Bone health in First Nations Australians

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2019) results included information about ‘chronic conditions’ which are ongoing health problems.

Bone health was part of the survey and included self-reported results for osteoporosis. Nearly two and a half percent (2.3%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people surveyed reported having osteoporosis or osteopenia.

The survey also showed conditions like kidney problems, diabetes and asthma were common health problems. All of these conditions can also impact bone health.

That’s why we encourage you to take steps to protect your bones and talk to your health worker if you have any worries about your bone health.

For more information, see our First Nations Australians Bone Health page.

Osteoporosis can lead to fractures.

A minor bump or fall can cause a severe fracture as bones become thinner and less dense. A ‘fracture’ is a complete or partial break in a bone. Osteoporosis can affect any bone, 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’. 

Their doctor should investigate anyone with specific risk factors for osteoporosis. Anyone over 50 who experiences a broken bone from a minor bump or fall should be investigated for osteoporosis.

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.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone density scan (commonly known as a bone density test or dexa scan). 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 assess your osteoporosis risk factors before referring you for a test.

Frequently Asked Questions about osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is when bones become fragile, leading to a higher risk of fractures (or breaks) than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to a loss of bone thickness (bone mass or density). As a result, bones become thinner and less dense, so even a minor bump or fall can result in a fracture.

Who gets osteoporosis? Can it be treated?

Over 1 million Australians have osteoporosis. It affects both men and women and is most common in adults over 50. Osteoporosis can be treated, and various medications are available in Australia. Osteoporosis must be detected as early as possible to ensure bone health is managed to prevent fractures.

If I have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, what normally happens?

You will be started on osteoporosis medication. Medication aims to slow bone loss and reduce the risk of fracture. Your doctor will also ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D; a supervised exercise program will be recommended. Your bone health will be closely monitored.

Can osteoporosis be prevented?

Looking after your bones is often part of your general health. Your bones require calcium and vitamin D, and exercise regularly. Habits like smoking and excessive alcohol intake are bad for bones. Awareness of particular risk factors for low bone density is also important. Risk factors include a family history of osteoporosis, low calcium and vitamin D levels and some conditions or medications. If you have any risk factors speak to your doctor (see risk factors).