Here are the major osteopenia and osteoporosis risk factors

When you know your osteopenia and osteoporosis risk factors, you will understand why you developed the condition. Also, knowing your individual risk factors can suggest some changes you could make to improve your future bone density.

Find your major risk factors from this list:

1. Heredity. Personal and family history counts a lot in osteoporosis risk and osteopenia risk. Heredity may be 60-70% of the determination of your adult bone mass. Your genes affect how much bone you have in your 30's and how fast you lose bone after that.

If you want to evaluate your osteopenia and osteoporosis risk here is what to look for:

  • Family history of Osteoporosis (mother, father, grandparent, sister, brother, aunt)
  • Family history of hip fracture
  • Fragility fracture after age 40 in yourself or your mother, grandmother, sister or aunt.
If your heredity increases your risk of excessive bone loss, then you'll want to be especially active in doing things that stimulate greater bone growth.

(Note: Since heredity is such a big factor, if you have been diagnosed with Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, do your sisters and brothers a favor and tell them. Then they can consider getting a dexa scan to check their own bone mass.)

2. Ethnicity. The greatest osteoporosis risk is held by Caucasian women and Asian women, then Hispanic women. African American women have the lowest risk.

3. Low body weight - especially anyone with a Body Mass Index less than 19. If you want to check your Body Mass Index, you can do so with this helpful Body Mass Index Calculator.

Also, if you are petite and slender, you have greater osteoporosis risk. This is true even if your Body Mass Index is appropriate to your height because you have small bone mass.

4. Menstrual history. If you were age 15 or older when you first started menstruating, you have greater risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. If you had Amenorrhea (sporadic loss of periods not due to pregnancy); Premature Menopause (before age 45) or Post menopausal estrogen deficiency, you have greater osteopenia and osteoporosis risk.

5. Lifestyle: both in the past and now

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Unless you are active, doing things that make your body experience the stress of bearing weight, your bones are likely to be weak. Children and teens who are not active, are likely to build less bone mass than those who are active. For adults, activity is so important that even several weeks of bed rest or the use of a wheel chair can lead to serious bone loss.

  • Dieting - Yo-yo dieters who lose and regain 15 pounds or more are at greater risk. Also, anyone with a history of anorexia or bulimia is at greater osteopenia or osteoporosis risk.

  • Cigarette smoking - There are many studies that link cigarette smoking and Osteoporosis. To learn how smoking contributes to bone loss read the article about Osteoporosis risk: Cadmium exposure

  • Alcohol - Alcohol interferes with the absorption of calcium in the intestines. It may also interfere with the activation of Vitamin D by the liver. Both these things can lead to bone loss. Even moderate drinking can affect bone mass. More than 7 drinks a week is associated with bone loss.See: Osteoporosis Alcohol Connection .

6. Nutrition and Diet - What we eat and when we eat it affects the bone building cycle.

  • Inadequate calcium and Vit. D - eating less than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Excessive consumption of protein.
  • Caffeine consumption of more than 400 milligrams a day whether from coffee, soda pop or any other sources. Note a single cup of coffee usually has 100 milligrams; a mug of coffee usually has twice that amount. Super size from your favorite coffee bar?

    Although caffeine remains on the list of Osteoporosis risk factors, research continues on any Osteoporosis caffeine connections. You may find it helpful to read this page about bones caffeine

7. Diseases that create osteopenia and osteoporosis risk factors.

  • Intestinal disorders - malabsorption, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, food allergy, colitis.
  • Gastrectomy
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Multiple Sclerosis. To read more go to Osteopenia and Multiple Sclerosis
  • Thalassemia
  • Severe liver disease
  • Myltiple myeloma
  • Type 1 Diabetes that is poorly controlled
  • Lactose intolerance

8. Treatments for:

  • Chronic inflammatory disease - rheumatoid arthritis
  • Leukemia and lymphoma
  • Endometriosis
9. Some drugs can increase your osteoporosis risk: Depro-Provera , Glucocorticoids (steroids); Aluminum containing drugs - including over the counter antacids with aluminum; Anticonvulsants; Cytotoxic drugs; GNRH - agonsists-lupron etc.;heparin; Lithium; Excessive thyroid hormone replacement; Diuretics other than Thiazide. Some studies indicate that a long course of antibiotics may also be a risk factor.

Since there are other things that can cause Osteopenia, you would be wise to review those and then return to read the rest of this page. Take notes so you have a written list of Additional Causes of Bone Loss that apply to you.

Using this information about osteopenia and osteoporosis risk factors. You can eliminate some risk factors but others, like your inherited genes, are not under your control. Some of us have more to overcome than others.

You need to mention ALL your personal risk factors when discussing your treatment plan with your health care provider.

Sometimes risks can be minimized. Example: If you are taking medication that increases your risk of bone loss, discuss it with your health care provider. Perhaps there is a different medication or perhaps you can use a lower dose.

The same is true of your diet. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, you need to be sure you are getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D from other sources.

If you need assistance in dealing with habits like smoking or drinking, your health care provider may have some suggestions.

It is always worth raising your particular osteoporosis risk factors in discussions with your health care provider. Your bones depend on your participation in building the best care plan for you, in your circumstances.


Sources used for this page:
Ann Richards with Richard U. Levine, M.D. I’m Not Slowing Down. Dutton, 2003.
Miriam E. Nelson; Sarah Wernick. Strong Women, Strong Bones. G.P. Putnam, 2000.
Morris Notelovits, MD, Ph.D; Marsha Ware, MD; Diana Tonnessen. Stand Tall! 2nd edition. Triad, 2000.


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