Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Osteoporosis is a disorder of the skeleton in which bone strength is
abnormally weak. This leads to an increase in the risk of breaking bones (bone fracture). In the United States, more than 10 million people have osteoporosis of the hip and almost 19 million more have low hip bone density. Between 4 to 6 million postmenopausal white women have osteoporosis, and an additional 13 to 17
million have low hipbone density. One in two white women will experience a bone fracture due to osteoporosis in her lifetime. In 1993, the United States incurred an estimated loss of 10 billion dollars due to loss of productivity and health care costs related to osteoporosis. With the aging of America, the number
of people with osteoporosis related fractures will increase exponentially. The pain, suffering, and economic costs will be enormous.
Factors that will increase the
risk of developing osteoporosis are:
- Female gender, Caucasian or Asian race, thin and small
body frames, and a family history of osteoporosis. (Having a mother with an osteoporotic hip
fracture doubles your risk of hip fracture.)
- Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and
caffeine consumption, lack of
exercise, and a diet low in calcium.
- Poor nutrition and poor general health.
- Malabsorption (nutrients are not
properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as
- Low estrogen levels such as occur in
menopause or with early surgical removal of both ovaries. Another cause of low
estrogen level is
chemotherapy, such as for
cancer. Chemotherapy can cause early menopause due to its
toxic effects on the ovaries.
- Amenorrhea (loss of the menstrual period) in
young women also causes low estrogen and osteoporosis. Amenorrhea can occur in
women who undergo extremely vigorous training and in women with very low body
fat (example: anorexia
- Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid
arthritis and chronic hepatitis
C, an infection of the
- Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any
condition that interferes with walking.
- Hyperthyroidism, a condition
wherein too much thyroid hormone is produced by the thyroid gland (as in
Grave's disease) or is caused by taking too much
thyroid hormone medication.
- Hyperparathyroidism, a disease
wherein there is excessive parathyroid hormone production by the parathyroid
gland (a small gland located near the
thyroid gland). Normally, the parathyroid hormone maintains blood calcium levels
by, in part, removing calcium from the bone. In untreated hyperparathyroidism,
excessive parathyroid hormone causes too much calcium to be removed from the
bone, which can lead to osteoporosis.
- Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps
the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb
adequate amounts of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency can
result from lack of intestinal absorption of the vitamin such as occurs in
celiac sprue and primary biliary cirrhosis.
- Certain medications can cause osteoporosis. These include heparin (a blood thinner), anti-seizure
medications phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and long term use of corticosteroids
(such as Prednisone).
For additional information, please visit the Osteoporosis Center.
Last Editorial Review: 8/5/2002