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What Is Osteoporosis? What You Need to Know


What Causes Osteoporosis? continued...

As you are growing up, your body builds more bone than it removes. During childhood, your bones become larger and stronger. Peak bone mass occurs when you have the maximum amount of bone mass you will ever have. For most people, this usually happens during the third decade of life. At a certain age, the bone remodeling process changes. New bone gets laid down at a slower rate. This slowdown results in a decrease in the total amount of bone you have.

If this loss of bone reaches a certain point, you have osteopenia. When bone loss becomes more severe, you have osteoporosis. 

What Is My Risk for Osteoporosis?

Key risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Family history: Osteoporosis seems to run in families. If your mother had a hip fracture or spinal collapse fracture, chances are you are at risk for osteoporosis.
  • Gender: Women are four times more likely than men to get osteoporosis. But men also suffer from osteoporosis.
  • Age: The risk of osteoporosis increases with age. Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. However, anyone of any age can have osteoporosis. But the older you are, the more risk you have of fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Bone structure and body weight: Petite and thin women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Weight loss after age 50 in women also seems to increase the risk of hip fractures. Weight gain decreases the risk. Small-boned, thin men have a greater risk of osteoporosis than men with larger frames and more body weight.
  • History of fractures: Having one fracture increases the chance of more fractures.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of fractures. Studies show that cigarette smokers (past or current smokers) have lower bone densities and higher fracture risks. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen -- a key component for having healthy bones -- compared to nonsmokers. They also frequently go through menopause earlier.
  • Medications: Some medications may increase your risk of osteoporosis. These include long-term use of steroids (prednisone), thyroid drugs, anticonvulsants, antacids, and other drugs.


How Is Osteoporosis Related to Menopause?

At menopause, there's a dramatic decline in the female hormone estrogen. This decline slows the bone remodeling process and causes an accelerated rate of bone loss. This more rapid loss of bone continues for about 10 years after menopause. The rate of bone loss eventually returns to premenopausal levels. But bone formation does not. This causes postmenopausal women to have a much greater chance of having a fracture.

In addition, having an early menopause (before age 40) also increases the chance of osteoporosis and fractures. Having prolonged periods of time when hormone levels are low and/or absent, such as can happen with excess exercise, causes loss of bone mass and osteoporosis.

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