Osteoporosis: Risk Factors
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition. It is possible to develop osteoporosis with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing osteoporosis. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
Risk Factors for Women
Women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men. This is because they have less bone tissue than men and have a sudden drop in hormones—especially estrogen—at menopause.
Estrogen deficiencies occur as a result of:
- Menopause—Natural or surgical menopause increases your risk of osteoporosis. The risk of fracture increases significantly after menopause.
- Amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation before menopause)—Your risk of osteoporosis increases if you miss menstrual periods for three months or longer. Amenorrhea may occur with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, or with excessive or intensive exercise, such as long distance running.
Risk Factors for Men
Men have a higher bone density and lose calcium at a slower rate than women. However, after age 50, bone loss gradually increases. Risk factors for bone loss in men include:
In men, deficiencies of testosterone and, to a much minor extent, estrogen play a role in the development of osteoporosis. This may be related to:
- Advanced age
- Treatment for prostate cancer, which lowers testosterone levels
- Hypogonadism, a severe deficiency in the male sex hormone
Risk Factors in Both Sexes
Having a family history of osteoporosis, especially hip fracture, puts you at a higher risk. Genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, glycogen storage diseases, or homocystinuria also play a role in higher osteoporosis risk.
Your risk of developing osteoporosis increases if you have a restrictive diet, such as not getting enough calcium or vitamin D. An excess of phosphorous in your diet may increase your risk if your calcium and/or vitamin D intakes are low. Excessive use of alcohol, coffee, or tea may also increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise, especially weight-bearing and resistance exercise, helps strengthen bones. Therefore, if you do not exercise on a regular basis, you may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Individuals who do not exercise regularly also tend to have weaker muscles and poorer balance, which can lead to falls and fractures.
Smoking impairs bone, muscle, and joint health. If you smoke, you have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Bone Structure and Body Weight
Small-boned women and underweight people of both sexes have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Lack of Sunlight
The effect of sun on the skin is a primary source of vitamin D, which aids bone formation. If you get very little sun exposure and have a low dietary intake of vitamin D, you may be at increased risk of osteoporosis.
Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than those of other ethnic groups. Though most ethnic studies have focused on women, it is believed that men in these ethnic groups carry a parallel but lower risk.
The long-term use of certain medications increases your risk of osteoporosis. Examples include:
- Medications to suppress the immune system
- Gonadotropin releasing hormone
- Antiseizure medications
- Medications containing aluminum, such as antacids
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Long-term heparin therapy
- Glitazones, medications to treat diabetes
Talk to your doctor before stopping or reducing your medications.
Certain chronic conditions may increase your risk for developing osteoporosis.
Gastrointestinal conditions include:
- Liver disease, such as cirrhosis
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia, or bulimia
Endocrine or hormonal conditions include:
Other disorders include:
Last reviewedJune 2013by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.