There are many misconceptions about osteoporosis. This might be the biggest: It’s a disease of aging, the inevitable result of losing bone mass over the years.
“Osteoporosis risk actually begins at birth,” says Sanford Baim, MD, a rheumatologist at Rush University Medical Center. “It’s a lifelong issue, and you have to think about all of the factors that go into your risk of fractures, from genetics to lifestyle to medical conditions.”
While you can’t change your family history, you can — and should — take the following steps to protect your bones at every stage of life.
1. Keep tabs on your bone density
Women 65 and older and men 70 and older should get regular bone density tests, or DXA scans. You may need to start earlier if you have an increased risk of osteoporosis-related fractures.
Factors that increase your risk include the following:
- Diseases, including certain cancers and cystic fibrosis
- Chronic health conditions, like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Use of medications that cause bone loss, such as steroids and certain cancer drugs
- Having a small frame
If you do have a chronic health issue, make sure you are managing it properly. “If you don’t control the disease, you increase your risk of complications, including those that can weaken bones,” Baim says.