Osteoporosis: Understanding Your Risk

May is National Osteoporosis Month. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weakened and may break. But we can’t see our bones, so how can we tell if we might be at risk for this condition? We may want to consider various factors that contribute to the development of this condition. Here are some steps individuals can take to evaluate their own risk: 

Understand osteoporosis: Educate yourself about the condition, its causes, and the risk factors. Osteoporosis is characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, leading to increased bone fragility and the risk of fractures. 

Consider age and gender: Osteoporosis primarily affects older adults, and women–especially postmenopausal women–are at a higher risk.  

Review personal medical history: Certain medical conditions and medications can increase the risk of osteoporosis. These include hormonal disorders (e.g., hyperthyroidism), gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., celiac disease), autoimmune conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis), and long-term use of corticosteroid medications. 

Evaluate family history: Talk to your family members about their history of bone fractures. A family history of osteoporosis can increase your risk, but it also gives you the opportunity to make preventive lifestyle changes.  

Assess lifestyle factors: Several lifestyle choices can impact bone health and increase the risk of osteoporosis. These include: 

  • Diet: Poor nutrition, low calcium and vitamin D intake, and excessive caffeine consumption can negatively affect bone health. 
  • Physical activity: Lack of weight-bearing exercise and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to the risk of osteoporosis. Regular exercise, particularly activities that involve bearing weight (e.g., walking, running, weightlifting), can help strengthen bones. 
  • Smoking: Smoking has been linked to reduced bone density and increased fracture risk. Quitting smoking is beneficial for overall health, including bone health. 
  • Alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can weaken bones and increase the risk of fractures. Limiting alcohol consumption is advisable. 

Consult with a healthcare professional: If you have concerns about your risk of osteoporosis, talk to your primary care physician or an endocrinologist specializing in bone health. They can evaluate your risk factors, order necessary tests, and provide personalized advice and treatment options.  

Consider bone mineral density (BMD) testing: BMD testing, usually performed through a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, measures the density of bones and helps diagnose osteoporosis or determine the risk of fractures. Your healthcare provider may advise this test based on your risk factors and age. 

Researchers have recently discovered a new way to communicate the risk of fractures and how it relates to the risk of early death. 

“Although a bone fracture can reduce a person’s lifespan, patients who suffer from a fracture don’t fully understand this reality,” said lead researcher Tuan Nguyen from The University of Technology Sydney. He said that 30% of people who suffered a hip fracture died within a year. is a tool developed by the researchers to help patients understand their “skeletal age.” Used in combination with the expertise of a healthcare provider, this site helps guide people’s understanding of their risk of fracture.  

“With greater awareness of these risks, doctors and patients will be more likely to take preventive measures to reduce the risk of premature death,” said Professor Nguyen. 

Remember, assessing your own risk is a preliminary step, and a healthcare professional can provide a more comprehensive evaluation based on your individual circumstances.