Can Kids Have Osteoporosis?

By Lindsey Johnson

Let’s face it – kids break a lot of bones. Playground time, scooter accidents, sports… these are all common reasons for children’s growing bones to bend and buckle. But what about the child who has recurrent breaks from minor incidents? 

Low bone density is becoming more common in children, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. Poor nutrition, less outdoor time (and exposure to vitamin D) and reduced physical activity may be contributing to this upward trend. 

There are other conditions that can contribute to a child having lower than normal bone density. Conditions such as cerebral palsy, malabsorption conditions, autoimmune diseases (Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, juvenile arthritis, Type 1 diabetes), anorexia and more, as well as certain medications, can also contribute to low bone density. 

Medical Terms 

There are two different diagnoses for those with lower than normal bone density: osteopenia and osteoporosis. MedicineNet defines osteopenia as a “mild thinning of the bone mass. Osteopenia represents a low bone mass and is not as severe as osteoporosis. Osteopenia results when formation of new bone (osteoid synthesis) is not sufficient to offset normal bone loss (osteoid lysis).” Osteoporosis is a more severe form of bone loss and is defined by the Hospital for Special Surgery as “a metabolic bone disorder in which bone tissue breaks down, causing low bone density. This makes the bone increasingly fragile and prone to fractures.” 

Both osteopenia and osteoporosis are considered “silent” conditions because sufferers do not display any symptoms or warning signs until they experience painful fractures. While most common in middle age and beyond (and especially post-menopausal women), osteopenia and osteoporosis can affect anyone. 

Prevention and Treatment 

Low bone density can often be prevented and treated in the same ways. Regular exercise, including weight-bearing exercises as well as flexibility movements like yoga, are important for good bone health. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help keep bones strong and durable. Medical News Today suggests good dietary sources include dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, leafy greens like broccoli and kale, fortified cereals and fish with soft bones like canned tuna and salmon. Encourage children, no matter what age, to avoid cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol to help keep bones strong. 

When to Seek Medical Advice 

If your child is having frequent broken bones or fractures from non-traumatic incidents, ask your pediatrician if further testing is recommended. They will likely order blood work to check their vitamin D levels, thyroid and parathyroid hormones, serum calcium and alkaline phosphatase. They may also order a DEXA (also known as DXA) bone density scan to check the density of your child’s bones. If any of the testing comes back abnormal, they will likely refer you to an endocrinologist, who specializes in metabolic disorders and hormone irregularities, to get to the root of the problem and monitor your child. 

! If you have any concerns about your child and bone breaks, always seek medical attention from your doctor. !


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