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Osteoporosis risk factors: Are you at risk?

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become less dense, weakened and more prone to becoming broken.

Osteoporosis is more commonly diagnosed in older age. It affects men and women, but the risk factors can be different between the sexes.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis for women?

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 shows 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 or African-Caribbean women.
  • 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 fracture or bone breakage.
  • Certain medications. The use of some medications, for instance the long term use of steroids (such as prednisolone), can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.


Risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures in men

Even though bone loss in men usually occurs later in life compared with women, men can still be at risk of osteoporosis. By the age of 65, men lose bone mass at the same rate as women. Experts estimate that by 2025, the total number of hip fractures in men will be similar to the current number reported in women. Perhaps because men are generally older than women are when they have a fracture, men are often more severely disabled. As with women, the hips, spine and wrists are the most common sites of fracture. The complications and death caused by hip fractures is three times higher in men than women.

Risk factors for bone loss and fractures include:

  • Certain drugs (corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, heparin, excessive thyroid replacement, certain cancer therapies)
  • Chronic disease that affects the kidneys, lungs, stomach, and intestines and alters hormone levels
  • Undiagnosed low levels of the sex hormone testosterone
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Smoking
  • Low calcium intake
  • Inadequate physical exercise
  • Increasing age
  • Heredity
  • Race (Of all men, white males appear to be at greatest risk of osteoporosis. However, men from all ethnic groups can develop osteoporosis)
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 25, 2016

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