Osteoporosis | Causes & Risk Factors


What causes osteoporosis?

Your bones are made up of living, growing tissues that change as you age. When you’re a child, adolescent, and young adult, your bones actually become denser (thicker and stronger). Eventually, sometime around your mid 20s, you reach your peak bone mass — this is when your bone mass is at its highest level. After bone mass peaks, all adults start to lose some bone mass.

Osteoporosis occurs if you lose too much bone or don’t make enough bone to begin with.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

The following things put you at an increased risk for osteoporosis. Some of these risk factors are beyond your control. For other risk factors, you can take steps to reduce your risk. Talk to your family doctor about your risk factors.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

  • Being female: Women are more likely to have osteoporosis than men.
  • Age: The older you get, the more likely you are to develop osteoporosis.
  • Race: Caucasians and Asians are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Genetics: You are more likely to develop osteoporosis if you have a family history of it.
  • Menopause: The hormone changes caused by menopause may increase the risk of osteoporosis. This is especially true for women who have early menopause (before age 45).
  • Body frame: People who have small, thin bone frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis.

Controllable Risk Factors:

  • Not getting enough calcium and/or vitamin D
  • Sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough exercise)
  • Smoking or tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa
  • Hormone imbalances, such as low estrogen or testosterone, or too much thyroid hormone
  • Use of certain medicines, such as the long-term use of corticosteroids, which are medicines prescribed to treat inflammation, pain and chronic conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Long-term use of medicines to reduce stomach acid for acid reflux or other conditions can cause reduced calcium absorption and osteoporosis.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/96