What are the Causes of Low Bone Density?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Low bone density can be associated with aging, disease, environmental factors, and lifestyle activities. Patients at risk of developing low bone density can usually be easily identified, allowing a doctor to recommend some steps to take to prevent bone loss and rebuild bone. These measures for prevention and treatment can include gentle exercise, dietary modifications, and some lifestyle changes, depending on why the patient is considered at risk.

Astronauts must exercise while in space to prevent the bones from weakening.
Astronauts must exercise while in space to prevent the bones from weakening.

In women, low estrogen levels can cause a decline in bone density. Young female athletes can be at risk because they are often thin and have a low body mass. Older women past menopause are a concern as well because their hormone levels shift with menopause. Hormone disorders and high levels of corticosteroids in the body can also be culprits behind reductions in bone density, especially in women.

As an individual ages, bones become more brittle and are more likely to break.
As an individual ages, bones become more brittle and are more likely to break.

Exposure to radiation is another risk factor. This is most commonly a concern with astronauts, as despite shielding, radiation levels are high when astronauts are working in space. Astronauts are regularly evaluated for signs of low bone density and their time in space is rationed to reduce the risks of permanent damages associated with radiation exposure. People who work in environments where radiation is present are also monitored for high radiation exposure.

People who are thin and of white or Asian descent are naturally at risk of low density. Lifestyle causes of low bone density include getting limited exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess. Diet is also a factor. Eating disorders and malnutrition make it harder for people to build and retain bone. Additionally, certain medications can be involved in a loss of bone density.

As people age, their bones tend to break down faster than the body can rebuild them. This process can be accelerated with some kinds of musculoskeletal disorders. People who experience bone and joint pain, muscle weakness, and fatigue may need to be evaluated for a medical condition involving the bones. If low bone density is a concern, taking dietary supplements and physical therapy sessions may be advised to maintain bone strength and rebuild bone over time.

Loss of bone density is a serious concern. Patients are at increased risk for serious fractures, especially in major bones like the hip, and it will take longer to heal after a fracture. Bone pain and weakness can also be experienced, making it difficult to engage in daily activities and limiting range of motion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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