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6 Medical Conditions Linked to Osteoporosis and Bone Loss

Are you at risk for bone loss due to your medical condition?

4. Celiac Disease

A number of digestive disorders, such as Crohn's disease, can be causes of osteoporosis. Perhaps the most common such cause, says Edwards, is celiac disease, an allergy to a protein called gluten that is often found in wheat products.

Left untreated, celiac disease can damage the lining of the digestive system and interfere with the digestion of nutrients -- including the calcium and vitamin D that are so important to bone health. So even if you're getting the recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, if you have celiac disease, you probably don't have enough of those nutrients in your system, and you likely have low bone density.

5. Asthma

Asthma itself does not increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, but the medications used to treat it do. Approximately 20 million people in the U.S. have asthma, including some 9 million children under the age of 18.

Many people with asthma use corticosteroids -- such as asthma "inhalers" -- to help control their disease. During asthma attacks it is not uncommon to start drugs like prednisone for small periods of time. These are very effective in relieving the shortness of breath and wheezing that are common with asthma or emphysema, but they may also contribute to bone loss and osteoporosis.

"In addition to this, many young people with asthma may have more difficulty participating in some activities, which means they might not get as much weight-bearing exercise as they need to help build bone," says Andrew Bunta, MD, associate professor and vice chair of orthopaedics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

6. Multiple Sclerosis

Asthma and multiple sclerosis are two very different conditions, but there are very similar reasons why they both increase the risk of osteoporosis. Like people with asthma, people with multiple sclerosis take steroid-based medications to help manage their symptoms, and steroids are associated with bone loss. Since multiple sclerosis also affects balance and movement for many people, someone with MS may find it more difficult to get as much weight-bearing exercise as they need to in order to build and maintain bone.

"Anything that impedes your ability to walk accelerates bone loss," says Edwards.

If you have one of these conditions, how can you help protect yourself from osteoporosis? First, don't assume that your doctor will take care of it for you.

"When you are troubleshooting a primary condition like MS, asthma, or lupus, you're not thinking about the side effects. Osteoporosis can take a back seat," says Felicia Cosman, MD, medical director of the Clinical Research Center at Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, N.Y., and an editor of Osteoporosis: An Evidence-Based Guide to Prevention and Management. "That's understandable -- but you don't want osteoporosis to add more disability to an already disabling condition."

So if the doctor treating your celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis hasn't already brought up osteoporosis with you, ask to discuss it. Depending on your age and your specific condition, you may have several options to help prevent osteoporosis symptoms:

  • Get an early bone density test. Doctors don't usually recommend bone density tests for premenopausal women, but if you have one of these conditions, you may need to be monitored more closely, and treated for bone loss more aggressively.
  • Push for more vitamin D and calcium in your diet, and supplement. Edwards recommends that people with conditions that accelerate bone loss get at least 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D from food and supplements. Look for low-fat dairy and fortified foods.
  • Consider getting the vitamin D levels in your blood measured. "That's not a specific recommendation from the National Osteoporosis Foundation, but it makes so much clinical sense," says Cosman. "Because vitamin D levels vary so much between individuals, it's hard to know how much supplementation is needed to reach sufficient levels."
Reviewed on April 27, 2009
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Osteoporosis Glossary

  • Bone Mineral Density - A measurement of the amount of calcium and minerals in bone tissue.
  • Calcium - A mineral in (and vital to) your bones. If your body lacks calcium, it takes it from bones.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) - a test used to measure bone mineral density.
  • Osteoporosis - A decrease in bone density, which increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D - A vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium.
  • View All Terms

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