Osteoporosis - What Increases Your Risk

Common Risk Factors

What Increases Your Risk

The risk of osteoporosis increases with age as bones naturally become thinner. After age 30, the rate at which your bone dissolves and is absorbed by the body slowly increases, while the rate of bone building decreases. Both men and women lose a small amount (approximately 0.4%) of bone each year after age 30.

In women, more rapid bone loss usually begins after monthly menstrual periods stop, when a woman's production of the hormone estrogen slows down (usually between the ages of 45 and 55). A man's bone thinning starts to develop gradually when production of the hormone testosterone slows down, at about 45 to 50 years of age. Women typically have smaller and lighter bones than men. As a result, women develop osteoporosis far more often than men. Osteoporosis usually does not have an effect on people until they are 60 or older.

Whether a person develops osteoporosis depends on the thickness of the bones (bone density) in early life, as well as health, diet, and physical activity later in life. Factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis in both men and women include:

  • Having a family history of osteoporosis. If your mother, father, or a sibling has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or has experienced broken bones from a minor injury, you are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle factors. These include:
    • Smoking. People who smoke lose bone thickness faster than nonsmokers.
    • Alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use can decrease bone growth and increase the risk of falling. But moderate alcohol use (no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women) is linked to higher bone thickness. Most doctors recommend limiting, but not eliminating, alcohol use.
    • Getting little or no exercise. Weight-bearing exercises—such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting weights—keep bones strong and healthy by working the muscles and bones against gravity. Exercise may improve your balance and decrease your risk of falling.
    • Being small-framed or thin. Thin people and those with small frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis. But being overweight puts a woman at risk for other serious medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease (CAD).
    • A diet low in foods containing calcium and vitamin D.
    • Drinking cola soft drinks. Cola, but not other carbonated soft drinks, may be linked to low bone mineral density in women.
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or rheumatoid arthritis, that put you at greater risk for osteoporosis.
  • Taking certain medicines. Several medicines cause bone thinning, such as:
    • Corticosteroids, used to treat conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If used for a period of 6 months or longer, corticosteroids can lead to steroid-induced osteoporosis.
    • Medicines used to treat endometriosis.
    • Aromatase inhibitors, used to treat breast cancer.
    • Thyroid replacement medicine, if the dose is more than the body needs. This should be monitored by checking the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) every year.
    • Depo-Provera, a birth control medicine given by injection. Longtime use may thin bones.
    • Antacids that contain aluminum, if they are overused. Aluminum-containing antacids remove calcium from your body.
    • Anticonvulsant medicines such as carbamazepine.
    • Hormone treatment for prostate cancer.
    • Medicines called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). SSRIs are used to treat many conditions, including depression, fibromyalgia, and premenstrual syndrome. Studies have found that daily use of SSRIs may increase the risk of bone fracture in adults over age 50. Before you take an SSRI, talk to your doctor about this risk.
  • Having certain surgeries, such as having your ovaries removed before menopause.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis may include:

  • Being of European and Asian ancestry, the people most likely to have osteoporosis. People of African ancestry are least likely.
  • Being inactive or bedridden for long periods of time.
  • Dieting excessively or having an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.
  • Being a female athlete, if you have few or irregular menstrual cycles due to low body fat.

Women who have completed menopause have the greatest risk of osteoporosis because their levels of the estrogen hormone drop. Estrogen protects women from bone loss. Likewise, women who no longer have menstrual periods—either because their ovaries are not working properly or because their ovaries have been surgically removed—also can have decreased estrogen levels.

To check your risk for osteoporosis, use the Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?Click here to see an interactive tool. or use this osteoporosis risk questionnaire.

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