In the United States, 10 million people have osteoporosis. Millions more have low bone mass (called osteopenia), placing them at risk for osteoporosis and broken bones.
Who is at risk?
10 Risk Factors
- Body Type
People who are thin or small-framed are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is characterized by loss of bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. A person whose bones are small has less to lose.
- Calcium Consumption
Milk really does do a body good. Drinking a glass of milk instead of a soda has a big effect on bone health. Both the calcium content and the vitamin D in milk is crucial for bone health. Many people are severely D-deficient, increasing risk not only for weak bones but for several types of cancer. And milk, which is fortified with vitamin D, is one of the only dietary sources of this important nutrient.
Drugs including prednisone or other corticosteroids, antidepressants, and thyroid hormone can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Over a long period, cortisone drugs deplete calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients from the bones and interfere with hormone levels, making bones more prone to bone loss. In addition, a group of antidepressants called SSRIs, as well as thyroid hormones have been associated with a higher incidence of osteoporosis.
- Autoimmune Conditions
People with autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, have osteoporosis at a much higher rate than the average person. This is primarily due to the medications -- typically corticosteroids -- used to treat these conditions.
- Family History
Family history is a major risk factor for poor bone health. If a close relative developed osteoporosis before age 50, your risk increases, too. If bad posture, a history of fractures or loss of height is common in your family, the risk of developing osteoporosis goes up.
Bones lose strength with age, so age itself is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is much more common in men older than 50 and in women who've been through menopause.
Women are at increased risk of osteoporosis, partly because they tend to have smaller frames to begin with, and partly because the hormonal changes women go through contribute to bone loss. More than 80 percent of the 10 million people with osteoporosis are women.
- History of Eating Disorders
A history of anorexia is one of the biggest red flags for osteoporosis, because when a woman's body weight drops too low, it lowers hormone levels, and she typically starts skipping periods. Anything that lowers estrogen levels interferes with bone building.
According to doctors and researchers, smoking is one of the worst lifestyle factors for brittle bones. Smoking has been proven to have a direct correlation with osteoporosis.
- Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol weakens bones, and also depletes calcium, magnesium, and other minerals from the bones.
If your loved one has two or more of these criteria, talk to your doctor about whether he or she should have a bone density scan.
What are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because bone is lost with no signs. You may not know that you have osteoporosis until a strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break.
How Is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
A bone mineral density test (called a DXA) is the best way to check your bone health. This test can:
- Diagnose osteoporosis
- Check bone strength
- See if treatments are making the bones stronger
How Is Osteoporosis Treated?
Treatment for osteoporosis includes:
- A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
- An exercise plan
- A healthy lifestyle
- Medications, if needed
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health (NIH), supports research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases.