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The Risk Factors

Gender: Women develop osteoporosis more often than men. Women have less bone tissue to start with and lose bone more rapidly than men as a result of menopause. But men are not immune to this condition, and are often under-diagnosed and inadequately researched.

Age: Bones become less dense and weaker as you age, increasing risk of osteoporosis.

Body Size: Low body weight (under 127 pounds) is an important risk factor for osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures. Being too thin means less padding of muscle and fat to protect your bones from injury, and may indicate you don't have adequate nutrition to maintain your bone.

Ethnicity: In the United States, Hispanic women are at highest risk - 13 to 16 percent have osteoporosis. Caucasian and Asian women are also at high risk. African-American women have a lower, but significant risk, with 10 percent over age 50 having the disease.

Family History: Individuals whose family members have a history of fractures or osteoporosis seem to have an increased risk for both. If someone in your family has osteoporosis, you have a 60 to 80 percent chance of getting the condition, too.

Medications: Long-term use of certain drugs - such as oral glucocorticoids (steroid pills such as prednisone) or anti-seizure medications - can put you at risk for osteoporosis. Certain chronic medical conditions can also lead to weaker bone.

Other Medical Problems: Your chances of osteoporosis increase if you have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism (excessive production of thyroid hormones or taking too much thyroid replacement medication), hyperparathyroidism (a condition caused by excessive amounts of parathyroid hormone), type I diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), anorexia or other eating disorders.

Hormone Levels: Men and women have lower sex hormone levels (such as testosterone and estrogen) as they age. This loss may be accelerated by some medical treatments. Loss of estrogen, especially after menopause, is the most common cause of osteoporosis in women. Sex hormones in both men and women are necessary to achieve and maintain an adequate amount of bone.

Low Calcium or Vitamin D: People need calcium and vitamin D throughout their lives to build bone. Milk and other fortified dairy products, and certain other foods, can provide a major boost of these nutrients.

Inactive Lifestyle: Your bones need weight-bearing exercise, about 30 minutes a day, to remain healthy.

Smoking, or Drinking Excessive Amounts of Alcohol: Smoking increases your risk of having osteoporosis as it damages bone cells and prevents new bone growth. More than 2 to 3 ounces a day of alcohol may damage your bones - putting those who consume larger amounts of alcohol at risk.