Early Onset Osteoporosis Is a Concern for Millions

Most people think osteoporosis mainly affects older women. However, increasingly, younger people with chronic medical conditions are being afflicated by the bone density loss associated with osteoporosis.

Researchers are calling it “secondary osteoporosis” and have identified an increasing number of medical factors that contribute to the early onset of osteoporosis. These contributing factors include chronic diseases such as cancer, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Early onset osteoporosis if in part caused by the powerful drugs used to treat these conditions, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Osteoporosis Fractures

The findings are important because there are no symptoms as bone weakens and osteoporosis isn’t diagnosed until a patient suffers a fractured bone. Osteoporosis causes an estimated 1.5 million bone fractures every year; it is one of the most widespread chronic conditions in the Western hemisphere, affecting 44 million Americans.

As a result of these new findings, researchers are calling on healthcare professionals to employ greater efforts to identify patients earlier who are at risk for secondary osteoporosis, before their bones become more fragile and further raise their risk of injury and disability.

Osteoporosis in Women and Men

Secondary osteoporosis does not fit the usual profile of people with osteoporosis, older women, but rather affects men and those under 50 as well. People at risk for secondary osteoporosis should have regular bone density scans, researchers recommend, regardless of age or gender.

“When I find a younger patient with osteoporosis, there is likely to be a secondary cause, and if that cause isn’t treated, they will continue to lose bone even if they are on osteoporosis medications,” Pauline M. Camacho, an endocrinologist at Loyola and co-author of the study said to the WSJ. “Our primary image of osteoporosis is a grandma hunched over, but we’re spotting it in younger patients and men.”

Causes of Secondary Osteoporosis

Secondary osteoporosis is often caused by medications. Anyone taking corticosteroids, such as prednisone, is at risk, according to the American College of Rheumatology. The drugs, prescribed to suppress inflammation in a wide range of illnesses and to prevent organ rejection after transplants, have a direct negative effect on bone cells and can interfere with the body’s handling of calcium.

Other medications also interfere with how the body naturally breaks down and rebuilds bone tissue, and how well it absorbs bone-building nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D. People at increased risk for secondary osteoporosis include people taking blood thinners, depression medications, reflux drugs, people undergoing bariatric surgery or receiving hormonal treatments to prevent breast or prostate cancer.

In addition to medications, certain lifestyle factors contribute to a higher risk for early onset osteoporosis. These include smoking, drinking and lack of exercise.

Most people think osteoporosis mainly affects older women. However, increasingly, younger people with chronic medical conditions are being afflicted by the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.

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