Childlessness: Women who never have children are at higher risk for osteoporosis. During each pregnancy, women experience temporary sur Risk Factors and Symptoms of Osteoporosis | Bone Disease Prevention | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Risk Factors and Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Childlessness: Women who never have children are at higher risk for osteoporosis. During each pregnancy, women experience temporary surges of estrogen that helps protect them from osteoporosis.

Low calcium intake (as an adult or child):Calcium is essential for healthy bones. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that women receive 1200 milligrams of calcium per day to maintain bone strength. According to the Physician’s Desk Reference website (PDR), over 75% of American women take in than 800 mg of calcium per day, and one out of four women take it less than 300 mg per day. For women who have already gone through menopause, the FDA recommends 1000mg to1300 mg of calcium per day to help prevent osteoporosis.

Too little exercise: A sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity can lead to osteoporosis. Bones can lose their mass during long periods of inactivity. Exercise helps maintain bone strength and growth. For women with low bone density, exercise may stimulate bone growth.

Weight: Women who are extremely thin are at higher risk for osteoporosis than heavier women because bone mass can benefit from excess fat. Fat tissues help convert other hormones to estrogen, even after menopause, and estrogen stimulates calcium absorption. Also, women who have poor muscle tone are at higher risk for osteoporosis.

Previous broken bone from minor injury: Women who break bones easily are at higher risk for osteoporosis than most women because their bones are not as strong. When a sharp decrease in estrogen occurs at the onset of menopause, these women will be at even greater risk.

Certain medications and steroids:Commonly prescribed steroids to treat asthma and arthritis (such as cortisone and prednisone) and high doses of thyroid hormone increase the chances of osteoporosis. Also, certain medications used to treat seizures (such as phenobarbital and phenytoin (trade name Dilantin) interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

Symptoms / Indicators of Osteoporosis:

Back pain:Vertebrae fractures are the most common bone fractures associated with osteoporosis. An early symptom of the disease is chronic lower back pain. Women may also experience sudden muscle spasms during periods of inactivity. This sudden back pain is caused by the spontaneous collapse of small, weak sections of the spine. The type of back pain associated with osteoporosis is confined to one area of the back and does not usually spread. Women who experience these symptoms should consult an orthopedic specialist. Often, women who develop osteoporosis will begin to experience chronic lower back pain about nine and a half years after their last menstrual period or 13 years after surgical menopause.(1)

Height loss, curving spine: The loss of height indicates the collapse of a spinal vertebra. These collapses typically occur at the weakest point of the spinal column-the spinal curve. Women with osteoporosis may lose two and a half to eight inches in upper body height. Older women should routinely measure their height.

Broken bones: Older women who break bones easily may have osteoporosis. A history of broken bones at a younger age is a high risk factor for the disease.

Chest X-ray showing osteopenia:Osteopenia is a condition in which a woman’s bone mass is lower than normal. A decrease in bone mass will affect the strength of bones, causing them to break more easily.

Tooth loss:Tooth loss around age 50 and the thinning of bones that support the teeth (periodontal bones) may indicate osteoporosis. Women may prevent tooth loss by practicing good oral hygiene throughout their lifetime.

Additional Resources and References

Updated: April 7, 2008