Osteoporosis, a Latin word for “porous bones,” is a condition that makes bones weak and brittle. While healthy bones have small honey-comb like spaces, osteoporosis increases the size of the spaces and causes the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner. More than 53 million people in the United States suffer from osteoporosis or are at a risk for developing it. It’s most common in older women, affecting about 200 million women worldwide.

What are the symptoms?

People with osteoporosis are at a higher risk for fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, and the bones in the wrists and spine. The early stages of osteoporosis don’t cause any symptoms or warning signs, and in most cases, people with osteoporosis may not know they have the condition until they have a fracture. If symptoms do appear, they may include: receding gums, a weakened grip, and brittle nails. When osteoporosis reaches an advanced stage, symptoms like loss of height, back pain, neck pain, fractures, and stooping posture can be seen. The condition is diagnosed with a simple bone density test that shows the extent of osteoporosis bone loss.

What are the risk factors?

But what exactly causes osteoporosis bone loss? There is no definite answer to this question, but risk factors include body frame size, age, family history, race, sedentary lifestyle, sex, and eating disorders. In addition, certain medical conditions are specifically linked with osteoporosis bone loss. Here are a few:

Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
Rheumatoid arthritis or RA and Lupus are autoimmune disorders where the immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and cells. Lupus is problematic because it typically affects women between 15 to 45 years old, the years that are considered to be the peak bone building years, and anything that impedes bone growth during these years puts you at greater risk.

People suffering from type 1 diabetes are likely to have lower bone density, possibly due to the impact of high blood sugar on bone formation. Since type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood, when the body is still building bone, someone with type 1 diabetes may never have the opportunity to reach their peak bone density, leading to bone loss and increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

While asthma does not directly lead to osteoporosis bone loss, medications like the corticosteroids used to treat asthma increase the risk of osteoporosis. Corticosteroids are effective in relieving wheezing and shortness of breath, but their side effects include osteoporosis bone loss.

Excess thyroid hormone increases the number of bone-remodeling cycles the body goes through and can lead to osteoporosis bone loss. After age 30, you lose bone mass rather than build it, so the more cycles you go through, the more bone mass you lose.

Celiac Disease

A potential complication of untreated celiac disease is the inability to develop optimal bone mass in children and the loss of bone in adults, both of which increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Mounting evidence indicates that MS, a chronic inflammatory-demyelinating disease of the nervous system, is associated with increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. The development of osteoporosis in MS patients can be related to the cumulative effects of various factors including physical inactivity and reduced mechanical load on the bones.

What can you do?

While many of the risk factors for osteoporosis are out of our control, some of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis include: getting the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D; making sure you are getting enough protein, magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc, all which promote bone health; doing weight-bearing exercises; and stopping smoking. There’s no cure for osteoporosis, but proper treatment can help protect and strengthen your bones; slow the breakdown of bone in your body; and even spur the growth of new bone.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center


Gupta S, Ahsan I, Mahfooz N, Abdelhamid N, Ramanathan M, Weinstock-Guttman B. Osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis: risk factors, pathophysiology, and therapeutic interventions. CNS Drugs. 2014 Aug;28(8):731-42.

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