Osteoporosis is a condition that makes your bones weak and fragile. It commonly affects older women but some younger people and children get osteoporosis too.
Juvenile osteoporosis (osteoporosis in children) is rare and usually caused by another condition that weakens the bones.
What causes osteoporosis and who can get it?
Our bones are made up of a thick outer shell and an inner mesh of bone that is a bit like a honeycomb. When you have osteoporosis this inner mesh becomes thinner and weaker. This makes your bones much weaker and prone to breaking.
When osteoporosis is caused by another condition, disease or treatment it is called secondary osteoporosis.
Things that can cause secondary osteoporosis include:
- eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia
- inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
- some treatments used over a long time can cause bone weakness, such as the steroid based medication used to treat asthma
- conditions that affect the bones such as OI, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, this is a condition that affects the production of collagen in your bones
- conditions that affect your mobility such as cerebral palsy
There is a type of juvenile osteoporosis that happens without any obvious cause. This is called idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis. It happens in healthy young people, usually between the ages of seven and 11. It is a very rare condition and no-one knows why it occurs.
What are the signs and symptoms of juvenile osteoporosis?
The symptoms of juvenile osteoporosis vary in every young person. They often depend on the cause of the condition.
Common symptoms include:
fractures and broken bones
- a curved spine from where the bones of the spine (vertebrae) have squashed and misshapen from fractures
How is it normally diagnosed and treated?
Osteoporosis in young people is usually diagnosed after a doctor investigates your symptoms, such as a broken bone or a curved spine.
Once your doctor thinks you might have osteoporosis further tests will follow. These will be to look at how the condition has affected your bones. Tests include:
X-rays – to look for fractures and breaks in your bones.
Bone density scans – these look at the density of your bones and assess how weak they are.
- Bone biopsies – sometimes a sample of your bone may need to be taken to look at the structure of your bone in more detail.
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your osteoporosis and how bad it is.
You should receive advice on doing weight bearing exercise and including calcium and vitamin D in your diet to help strengthen your bones.
Medication can also be used.
Can it be prevented?
Osteoporosis can't often be prevented in young people because it is usually the result of another unavoidable condition such as cerebral palsy.
The best way to keep your bones strong and healthy at any time in life is to eat a well balanced diet
, rich in calcium, and to do plenty of weight bearing exercise like walking or running to help to strengthen your bones.
When should I seek medical help?
You should go to see your doctor as soon as you have any symptoms of osteoporosis. You can also go if you are worried you may at risk of osteoporosis because of another condition or medication.
For some young people osteoporosis can affect their growth. In others fractures
and breaks can lead to disabilities or mobility difficulties.
In most young people osteoporosis can be successfully managed so the disease does not get any worse.
When there is no obvious cause for idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis, the condition often gets better as you get older.