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Genomics, Family History & Osteoporosis

Photo: Mature son and daughter with motherIf one of your parents has had a fracture, especially a hip fracture, then earlier screening for osteoporosis might be right for you. Share your family health history with your doctor.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.

Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which bones become weak and brittle. People with osteoporosis have an increased risk for fractures, most commonly of the hip, forearm/wrist and spine. These fractures can have a variety of harmful effects, including chronic pain and disability, loss of independence, decreased quality of life, and increased risk of early death.

As many as 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men are at risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime. Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races, but it is more common in white persons than in other racial groups. The chance of having osteoporosis increases as you get older. Smoking, daily alcohol use, and lower body mass index (BMI) are some of the known risk factors for osteoporosis.

Your risk of osteoporosis may be increased if you have one or more close biological relatives, such as a parent, sister or brother, with the disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for osteoporosis for women age 65 years or older, and earlier screening for women age 50-64 years with certain risk factors. For example, a 55-year-old white woman whose parent has had a hip fracture should consider getting screened early because her 10-year risk of fracture is at least as great as a 65-year-old white woman who has no additional risk factors.

Family history of osteoporosis can be due to a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors. Genetic studies in recent years have identified over 60 genetic markers associated with bone density and susceptibility to fractures due to osteoporosis.

Risk assessment and screening can help guide prevention.

Tools, such as the FRAX Risk Assessment tool developed by the World Health Organization and the National Osteoporosis Foundation, are available to estimate risk for fractures due to osteoporosis based on several risk factors, including parental hip fracture. Screening for osteoporosis is commonly done by measuring bone density with low level x-rays using dual/energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Risk assessment and screening for osteoporosis is important because medications; healthy diet, including adequate calcium and vitamin D; and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss and strengthen weak bones.

To organize and record your family health history information, check out the U.S. Surgeon General's My Family Health Portrait tool.

  • Page last reviewed: May 19, 2014
  • Page last updated: May 19, 2014
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