What is Osteoporosis?

Learn what osteoporosis is and why women of all ages should know about how to prevent it.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read

Who Gets Osteoporosis?

All of us lose bone mass as we age, but not everyone gets osteoporosis. We know there are certain risk factors that can contribute to developing osteoporosis. So what are these risk factors? Let’s “break” it down:

Family History of Osteoporosis: Did either one of your parents suffer from osteoporosis or a hip fracture? Forming strong bones is partly genetic. So if your parents passed on the poor bone-forming genes, it may place you at greater risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

Sex/Race: Being female and being Caucasian also places you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.

Cigarette Smoking: Studies show that smoking causes bone loss, and is quite bad to the bone. Another great reason to think about quitting!

Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Studies show that bone loss increases with the amount alcohol consumed, and that those who consume more than 2 drinks a day have a higher risk of hip fractures.

Body Frame: Women who are thin, small-boned, and weigh less than 125 pounds are typically at greater risk. (This doesn’t give you permission to go and eat fast food every day so that you can exchange your risk of osteoporosis for heart disease, though!)

Hyperthyroidism: Excess thyroid hormones can cause a decrease in bone mass. Therefore, those who leave their hyperthyroidism (a condition where the body itself produces too much thyroid hormone) untreated, and those taking an inappropriate amount of thyroid hormone pills to treat their underactive thyroid condition are at increased risk.

Medications: Some medications can lead to osteoporosis as a side effect. Women who take too many steroids (not the kind that make you bulk up) and other medications used to treat certain health conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are at greater risk. So are women taking an inappropriate amount of thyroid medications, anti-seizure medications, and some chemotherapy agents. Taking the anti-contraceptive injection, Depo-Provera, for longer than two years is also a risk.

Estrogen Deficiency: Estrogen builds bone. So if you have too little, it can do the opposite. There are many health conditions associated with low estrogen levels: menopause, eating disorders, excessive exercise, premature ovarian failure, and those with amenorrhea, disorders characterized by the lack of menstrual periods.

History of a Previous Fracture: Those with a prior low-trauma fracture as an adult are more likely to have osteoporosis without knowing it. 

Medical Diseases: Various medical problems are associated with low bone density, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and kidney disease. 


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.