Osteoporosis – What Are Risk Factors For Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Osteoporosis can be prevented and treated. Although anyone can develop osteoporosis, it is common in older women. It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of all women and 25 percent of all men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Gender. Fractures from osteoporosis are about twice as common in women as they are in men because women start out with lower bone mass and tend to live longer. Also, women experience a sudden drop in estrogen at menopause that accelerates bone loss. Slender, small-framed women are particularly at risk. Men who have low levels of the male hormone testosterone also are at increased risk. From age 75 on, osteoporosis is as common in men as it is in women.
  • Age. The older you get, the higher your risk of osteoporosis since your bones become weaker as you age.
  • Race. You are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis if you are a white or Asian woman. Black and Hispanic men and women have a lower but still significant risk.
  • Family history. Osteoporosis runs in families. Having a parent or a sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
  • Frame size. Men and women who are exceptionally thin or have small body frames tend to have higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.
  • Tobacco use. Those that smoke are at higher risk for osteoporosis since tobacco use contributes to weak bones.
  • Exposure to estrogen. The greater a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, the lower the risk of osteoporosis. For example, you have a lower risk if you have a late menopause or if you began menstruating at an earlier than average age. However, if you have a history of abnormal menstrual periods, experience menopause earlier than your late 40s or have your ovaries surgically removed before age 45 without receiving hormone therapy, your risk is increased.
  • Eating disorders. Women and men with anorexia nervosa or bulimia are at higher risk of lower bone density in their lower backs and hips.
  • Corticosteroid medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications is damaging to bone. Corticosteroid medications include prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone. These medications are common treatments for chronic conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. If you need to take a steroid medication for long periods, talk to your doctor about monitoring your bone density and recommending other drugs to help prevent bone loss.
  • Thyroid hormone. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. This can occur because your thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or because you take excess amounts of thyroid hormone medication to treat an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
  • Diuretics. Diuretics are drugs that prevent the buildup of fluids in your body. Diuretics cause the kidneys to excrete more calcium, leading to thinning bones. Diuretics that cause calcium loss include furosemide (Lasix), bumetanide (Bumex), ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) and torsemide (Demadex). If you currently use one of these, talk to your doctor about switching to a different diuretic.
  • Other medications. Long-term use of the blood-thinning medication heparin, the drug methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications and aluminum-containing antacids can cause bone loss.
  • Breast cancer. Postmenopausal women who have had breast cancer are at increased risk of osteoporosis, especially if they were treated with chemotherapy or aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane, which suppress estrogen. This does not hold true for women treated with tamoxifen, which may reduce the risk of fractures.
  • Low calcium intake. A lack of calcium plays a major role in the development of osteoporosis. Low calcium intake contributes to poor bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
  • Medical conditions. Medical conditions and procedures that decrease calcium absorption, such as stomach surgery (gastrectomy), can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Bone health begins in childhood. Children who are physically active and consume adequate amounts of calcium-containing foods have the greatest bone density. Weight-bearing exercise is beneficial, but jumping and hopping seem particularly helpful for creating healthy bones. Exercise throughout life is important, but you can increase your bone density at any age.
  • Excess soda consumption. Caffeine may interfere with calcium absorption and its diuretic effect may increase mineral loss. The phosphoric acid in soda may contribute to bone loss by changing the acid balance in the blood. If you do drink caffeinated soda, be sure to get adequate calcium and vitamin D from other sources in your diet or from supplements.
  • Chronic alcoholism. Alcoholism is one of the leading risk factors for osteoporosis in men. Excess consumption of alcohol reduces bone formation and interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Depression. People who experience serious depression have increased rates of bone loss.