SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and lose their strength.
- Osteoporotic bones break more easily than normal bones.
- Osteoporosis in children is a rare condition that is usually caused by an underlying medical condition.
- Treatment depends on the cause, but may include dietary changes, a supervised exercise program and treatment for any underlying medical condition.
This rare condition is usually caused by an underlying medical condition, certain medication used to treat a medical condition, or lifestyle factors such as and lack of . This is known as secondary osteoporosis.
Less commonly, osteoporosis will occur for an unknown reason. This is known as idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis.
Our bones are living tissue that is constantly growing, rebuilding, replacing and repairing. From the time we’re born, to about 25 years of age, we build more bone than we lose. This helps us grow and develop strong skeletons that will support us throughout our lives.
In children with juvenile osteoporosis, this process is altered. Not enough bone is built, or too much bone is lost, or it could be a combination of both of these. Bones become less dense, lose strength and break more easily.
Causes of juvenile osteoporosis
In most cases, juvenile osteoporosis is caused by an underlying medical condition, certain medications used to treat a medical condition or a lifestyle factor.
- medical conditions – including , osteogenesis imperfecta, , , , , , and
- – such as some types of treatments, anticonvulsant medication (used to manage ) or corticosteroids (used to treat a wide range of conditions including and )
- lifestyle factors – children who are bedridden or have prolonged periods of immobility are at increased risk of juvenile osteoporosis because they’re unable to participate in that encourage bone density. Inadequate dietary intake, and may also lead to juvenile osteoporosis.
Diagnosing juvenile osteoporosis
Juvenile osteoporosis is usually diagnosed after a child has broken a bone. Diagnosis may include:
- medical history
- physical examination
- medical histories of family members to find out if a genetic disorder is the cause
- a bone scan – dual energy absorptiometry (DEXA) to
Idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis
Sometimes no underlying cause can be found. In these rare cases, the condition is called idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis. A child with this condition tends to have symptoms such as pain in the lower back, hips and feet, often accompanied by difficulty walking, and spinal deformities.
Generally, idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis tends to resolve by itself, and most children will experience a complete recovery of bone tissue. However, in some children disability may extend into adulthood. The reason for this is unknown.
Long-term risks of osteoporosis in children
Throughout childhood, we’re building up our peak bone mass, which is achieved before the age of 30. The more bone mass we have, the stronger our bones, and the lower the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Without treatment, juvenile osteoporosis can affect bone integrity and increase the child’s risk of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures later in life.
That’s why diagnosing and treating juvenile osteoporosis as soon as possible is so important.
Treating juvenile osteoporosis
In most cases, juvenile osteoporosis can be treated. Treatment depends on the cause but may include:
- diagnosing and treating an underlying medical condition
- changing medication – if this is the cause, your doctor may lower the dose or prescribe a different medication
- encouraging your child to take part in regular and appropriate exercise – talk with a or about creating an exercise program that promotes bone growth, is safe and won’t cause a fracture
- increasing calcium in the diet – including (such as milk, cheese and yoghurt) and other sources of (such as leafy green , tofu, , legumes) and calcium-fortified foods (for example, soy milk). Talk with your or a if you need some advice on ways to increase calcium in your child’s diet
- adequate vitamin D – we obtain most of our from the sun, so it’s important your child’s skin (hands, face, arms) is exposed to the sun for five to ten minutes every day in the warmer months (avoiding the hottest period of the day), and about 30 minutes in the cooler months. There are recommendations for the amount of safe sun exposure for sufficient vitamin D production, depending on your child’s skin type, geographical location in Australia and the season. For most people, it‘s unlikely that adequate quantities of vitamin D will be obtained through diet alone. If you’re not sure if your child is getting enough vitamin D, talk with your doctor
- taking calcium and vitamin D supplements if necessary – talk to your doctor about this
- protecting your child against fractures – for example, by avoiding contact sports
- medication – may be needed to help manage symptoms (such as after a ), or in severe juvenile osteoporosis to encourage bone strength. Discuss medication options with your doctor.