Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Last Editorial Review: 8/5/2002

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:

  1. 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.)

  2. Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, lack of exercise, and a diet low in calcium.

  3. Poor nutrition and poor general health.

  4. Malabsorption (nutrients are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as Celiac  Sprue.

  5. 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 breast cancer. Chemotherapy can cause early menopause due to its toxic effects on the ovaries.

  6. 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 nervosa).

  7. Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic hepatitis C, an infection of the liver.

  8. Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any condition that interferes with walking.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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