What is juvenile osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when the bones get weaker and less dense. When a child or teen develops osteoporosis, the condition is known as juvenile osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is uncommon in children and teens, although the exact numbers of young people with this condition are not known. Juvenile osteoporosis is usually caused by an underlying disease or condition or by medications that the child is taking.
See Bone Mineral Density Tests: What the Numbers Mean for information on how osteoporosis is diagnosed.
How does juvenile osteoporosis affect health?
From birth through their 20s, most people steadily gain bone mass until their bones reach their peak strength and density. The greater their peak bone mass, the lower their risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Juvenile osteoporosis develops during the major bone-building years and can affect a child’s growth and development. It can lead to:
- Loss of height or delayed growth.
- A high risk of fractures.
What causes juvenile osteoporosis?
Juvenile osteoporosis is usually caused by an underlying medical condition, medications used to treat the condition, or certain behaviors related to diet and exercise.
Some of the diseases that can affect bone mass and increase the risk of juvenile osteoporosis include:
- Celiac disease.
- Cerebral palsy.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Eating disorders.
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
- Kidney disease.
Some of the medications for these and other diseases that can affect bone mass include:
- Anticonvulsant medications (used to prevent or treat seizures).
- Medications that suppress the immune system.
Some behaviors can also affect children’s bone mineral density and risk of osteoporosis, such as:
- Being inactive for a long time because of an injury or another disease, like cerebral palsy.
- Eating an unhealthy diet, particularly if it doesn’t have enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Exercising too much, especially if it causes a teen girl’s monthly periods to stop.
What is idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis?
In very rare cases, doctors cannot identify the cause of osteoporosis in a child or teen. This condition is known as idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis. The first signs are often fractures, which may lead to a limp and pain in the back, hips, and feet.
Idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis usually starts just before puberty in boys or girls who are otherwise healthy. This condition is usually diagnosed when the doctor cannot find an underlying cause, such as another disease or medication.
If your child has idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis, their growth might be affected by fractures. But they will probably grow normally again within a few years. Most children with idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis catch up with the growth they missed. But if the disease is severe, it can have permanent effects, such as deformities.
What are the treatments for juvenile osteoporosis?
With juvenile osteoporosis, it is important to identify and treat the known underlying causes. Also, if your child takes a medication that could lower bone mass, the doctor might choose the lowest possible dose that controls the disease to minimize its impact on bone health. In addition, your child might benefit from a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (or supplements) and physical activity.
See Calcium and Vitamin D: Important for Bone Health for more information on how much calcium and vitamin D is needed and how to get more of these nutrients.
Medications that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat osteoporosis in adults are sometimes used to treat juvenile osteoporosis. Doctors might recommend these medicines for children who have had several fractures in the vertebrae and severe bone pain.
Children and teens with juvenile idiopathic osteoporosis might not need treatment because the condition often goes away on its own.
- Physical therapy.
- Regular therapy exercise.
- A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
This content was created by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) with contributions from: