Osteopenia | Causes & Risk Factors


What causes osteopenia?

Your bones are constantly changing. New bone is growing while old bone is being broken down and reabsorbed by your body. When you are young, you grow new bone faster than your body breaks down old bone. This increases your bone mass. Once total bone mass has peaked, you start to lose it because your body is breaking down old bone faster than you can grow new bone. If you lose enough bone mass, your bones may weaken.

What are the risk factors for osteopenia?

The following things put you at increased risk for osteopenia. The more of these that apply to you, the higher your risk is. Talk to your family doctor about your risk factors.

  • Aging
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Surgery to remove ovaries before menopause
  • Sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough exercise)
  • Smoking or tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia
  • Hyperthyroidism, either from an overactive thyroid or from taking too much medicine to treat hypothyroidism.

Am I at risk for osteopenia?

Women are more likely to develop osteopenia than men. This is due to several factors. Women have less bone mass to begin with, tend to live longer and take in less calcium than do men. In women, the rate of bone loss speeds up after menopause, when estrogen levels fall. Since the ovaries make estrogen, faster bone loss will also occur if both ovaries are removed by surgery.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Created: 05/10