Aging & Health A to Z
Causes & Symptoms
The main cause of osteoporosis is an age-related decrease in the body’s hormone production. This means less estrogen in women after menopause and less testosterone in older men.
Women over age 50 and men over 70 have an increased risk for osteoporosis due to the drop in hormones. Men "catch up" to women after age 75, and then both men and women have an equal risk of developing the disease. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that four times more women than men have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, but this may be partly due to the fact that many doctors think of osteoporosis as a women's disease, and don’t diagnose it in their male patients.
Other causes of the disease include:
- lack of physical activity or /being confined to bed
- chronic rheumatoid arthritis
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease
- poor nutrition or eating disorders
- intestinal problems with absorption of nutrients from the diet
- certain medications
- glandular diseases such as diseases of the thyroid, parathyroid, or adrenal glands
- certain diseases and conditions (Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, stomach surgery)
- vitamin D deficiency
- too little calcium in your diet
- too much alcohol consumption
- cigarette smoking
- family history of osteoporosis
- history of hormone treatment for prostate cancer or breast cancer
- low body weight or having a small body frame
- being white or Asian (although African-American and other ethnic groups are also at risk)
- for women: having had an early menopause or surgical removal of ovaries
- for men: having had prostate cancer treatments that lower testosterone levels
- cancer (multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma).
Even when you eat a healthy diet, you may not absorb as many vitamins and minerals as you used to. This is a normal part of aging.
Medications prescribed for certain common conditions or diseases of older people may cause calcium loss from bones as a side effect.
Usually there are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. But as the disease progresses, you may experience:
- bone pain or tenderness
- curvature of the spine
- stooped posture sometimes known as “dowager’s hump” (kyphosis)
- loss in height (as much as six inches)
- other changes in posture and body shape
- low back pain and/or neck pain due to fractures of the bones of the spine.
You may have had a spinal fracture without realizing it, because sometimes there are no symptoms. If you have lost height, have increased curvature of the spine, find that your clothes no longer fit normally, or if you have back pain for more than two weeks, you may have unknowingly fractured bones in your spine. If you have these types of changes see your healthcare professional. He or she will order a DXA scan to see if you have bone loss
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012