Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps.
Osteoporosis can occur at any age, but the risk for developing the disease increases as you get older. For many women, the disease begins to develop a year or two before menopause. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of broken bones in women who have gone through menopause and in older men.
Osteoporosis doesn’t usually have symptoms — therefore, most people don’t know they have it until they break a bone. Fractures can happen in any bone, but happen most often in the hip, spine and wrist.
Factors that may increase your risk for osteoporosis include:
- Sex. Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you are a woman. Women have lower peak bone mass and smaller bones than men. However, men are still at risk, especially after the age of 70.
- Age. As you age, bone loss happens more quickly, and new bone growth is slower. Over time, your bones can weaken and your risk for osteoporosis increases.
- Body size. Slender, thin-boned women and men are at great risk to develop osteoporosis because they have less bone to lose compared to larger-boned women and men.
- Race. White and Asian women are at highest risk. African American and Mexican American women have a lower risk. White men are at higher risk than African American and Mexican American men.
- Family history. Researchers are finding that your risk for osteoporosis and fractures may increase if one of your parents has a history of osteoporosis or hip fracture.
- Changes to hormones. Low levels of certain hormones can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis. For example:
- Low estrogen in women after menopause
- Low levels of estrogen from the abnormal absence of menstrual periods in premenopausal women due to hormone disorders or extreme levels of physical activity.
- Low levels of testosterone in men. Men with conditions that cause low testosterone are at risk for osteoporosis. However, the gradual decrease of testosterone with aging is probably not a major reason for bone loss
- Diet. Beginning in childhood and into old age, a diet low in calcium and vitamin D can increase your risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Excessive dieting or poor protein intake may increase your risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Other medical conditions. Some medical conditions that you may be able to treat or manage can increase the risk of osteoporosis, such as other endocrine and hormonal diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and anorexia nervosa.
- Medications. Long-term use of certain medications may make you more likely to develop bone loss and osteoporosis, such as:
- Glucocorticoids and adrenocorticotropic hormone, which treat various conditions, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
- Antiepileptic medicines, which treat seizures and other neurological disorders
- Cancer medications, which use hormones to treat breast and prostate cancer
- Proton pump inhibitors, which lower stomach acid
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which treat depression and anxiety
- Thiazolidinediones, which treat type 2 diabetes