Aging & Health A to Z
Causes & Symptoms
The main cause of osteoporosis is an age-related decrease in the body’s production of hormones. This means less estrogen in women after menopause and less testosterone in older men.
Due to the drop in hormones, women over age 50 and men over 70 have an increased risk for osteoporosis. Men "catch up" to women after age 75. At that point, 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. However, this may be partly due to the fact that many healthcare professionals think of osteoporosis as a women's disease. Because of that, they may not diagnose it in their male patients.
Other causes of the disease include:
- lack of physical activity or not being able to get out of bed
- chronic rheumatoid arthritis
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease
- poor nutrition or eating disorders
- intestinal problems that make it more difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat
- certain medications, especially corticosteroids
- glandular diseases such as diseases of the thyroid, parathyroid, or adrenal glands
- certain diseases and conditions (such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or stomach surgery)
- lack of vitamin D
- not enough calcium in your diet
- drinking too much alcohol
- smoking cigarettes
- family history of osteoporosis
- history of hormone treatment for prostate cancer or breast cancer
- low body weight or 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 (such as 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.
There are medications that are prescribed for certain conditions or diseases that are common in older people. These medications may have the side effect of causing calcium loss from bones.
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
- a stooped posture called kyphosis (sometimes known as “dowager’s hump”)
- 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. You may have unknowingly fractured bones in your spine 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. If you have these types of changes see your healthcare provider. They will order a scan to see if you have bone loss.
Updated: November 2017
Posted: March 2012