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Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Lack of calcium in your diet is just one risk factor for osteoporosis. Learn about all the risks and what you can do about many of them.

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Picture of milk pouring in a glass Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones are weak and prone to fracture. Many factors can raise your chances of having osteoporosis. For example, women are at increased risk compared to men. Of the 10 million Americans estimated to have osteoporosis, 8 million are women and 2 million are men.

There are several other risk factors, too. Some of them, such as age, you can't control. But others, such as low calcium, you can do something about.

Risk factors you can't change include:

  • Age. Not every older person has osteoporosis. But it is more common as people age because bone density naturally decreases with age.
  • Being female. Women's bones are lighter (less dense) than men's, and women have a period of rapid bone loss after menopause. However, men can get osteoporosis, too, and their risk also increases as they age.
  • Caucasian or Asian ancestry. People of African descent are at lower risk but still can have the disease.
  • Family history of osteoporosis. Having a parent with osteoporosis or a history of broken bones raises your risk.
  • Menopause. Estrogen levels drop after menopause, which leads to more bone loss. Early menopause especially raises the risk.
  • Small and thin frame. People with small bones are at higher risk than large-boned people.
  • History of fracture. If you have broken one or more bones as an adult, talk to your doctor about osteoporosis.
  • Certain medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic liver or kidney disease.

Risk factors you can reduce include:

  • Low calcium intake. You need calcium to build strong bones, and you need vitamin D to absorb calcium.
  • Smoking. Cigarettes contain chemicals that make it harder for bone cells to absorb calcium.
  • Lack of exercise. Being inactive leads to loss of calcium in bone.
  • Alcohol abuse. Drinking too much alcohol makes it hard to build new bone. Excess alcohol often goes hand in hand with an unhealthy diet that lacks calcium.

A special risk: medications
The list of medications that can cause bone loss is long. Examples include:

  • Steroid medications used to treat asthma, certain types of arthritis, and some other conditions
  • Anti-seizure medications, such as phenobarbital
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Some antidepressants, including SSRIs such as Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft
  • Lithium
  • Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec and Nexium

Discuss with your doctor the effect of your medications on bone health. Do not stop taking any prescription medication unless your doctor says it is safe to do so.

What can I do about my risks?

  • Talk to your doctor. If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, discuss them with your doctor. He or she may do a bone mineral density test. This is a safe, painless test that estimates how dense your bones are. It can help your doctor predict your risk of fracture.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Get enough calcium and vitamin D, eat a healthy diet, don't smoke, limit alcohol, and get regular weight-bearing exercise. Ask your doctor about a safe level of activity.
By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer
Created on 06/08/1999
Updated on 05/06/2011
  • National Osteoporosis Foundation. Clinician's guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
  • National Osteoporosis Foundation. Factors that put you at risk.
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoporosis overview.
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