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Osteoporosis: Are You at Risk?

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Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, increasing the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. The term literally means "porous bone," and the disease results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength. Osteoporosis often progresses without any symptoms or pain.

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

Important risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Age. After maximum bone density and strength is reached (generally around age 30), bone mass begins to decline naturally with age.
  • Gender. Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. In fact, women are four times more likely than men to develop it. Women's lighter, thinner bones and longer life spans are part of the reason they have a higher risk.
  • Ethnicity. Research has shown that Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Additionally, hip fractures are twice as likely to occur in Caucasian women as in African-American women. However, women of color who fracture their hips have a higher death rate.
  • Bone structure and body weight. Petite and thin women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. One reason is that they have less bone to lose than women with more body weight and larger frames. Similarly, small-boned, thin men are at greater risk than men with larger frames and more body weight.
  • Family history. Heredity is one of the most important risk factors for osteoporosis. If your parents or grandparents have had any signs of osteoporosis, such as a fractured hip after a minor fall, you may be at greater risk of developing the disease.
  • Prior history of broken bones.
  • Cigarette smoking. Smoking puts you at higher risk of having osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Alcohol. Heavy alcohol use can lead to thinning of the bones and increase your risk of fracture.
  • Certain Diseases. Some diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Certain medications. The use of some medications -- for example, the long term use of steroids such as prednisone -- can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 22, 2013
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