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