Osteoporosis is a progressive condition in which bone density is lost, or there is insufficient bone formation. This weakens the bones and making them more susceptible to fractures. Although much more common in older adults, especially women during and after menopause, osteoporosis can also occur during childhood. Most often, osteoporosis during childhood is caused by an underlying medical condition (called secondary osteoporosis) or a genetic disorder (such as osteogenesis imperfecta). Sometimes, no cause can be found and the disease is categorized as a rare form of osteoporosis, called idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis (IJO).
In children, the following causes may be attributed to different forms of osteoporosis:
Secondary osteoporosis disorders (caused by an underlying medical condition):
Medications, including the following:
Anticonvulsants (for seizures)
Excessive inactivity or immobility
Dietary calcium and vitamin D deficiency
Excessive exercising leading to amenorrhea
People with osteoporosis may not develop any symptoms and the disease, therefore, is often described as "silent." However, children with the rare idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis (IJO) may develop lower back, hip, and foot pain. In addition, IJO is sometimes coupled with physical deformities, including abnormal curvature of the thoracic spine (kyphosis), sunken chest, or a limp. The symptoms of juvenile osteoporosis may look like other bone disorders or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a specific diagnosis.
Diagnosis of juvenile osteoporosis is often not made until the child has a broken bone. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, other tests may include:
Review of family medical history
Skeletal X-rays. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
Bone density test. A diagnostic procedure to determine bone mineral content and skeletal changes, such as bone loss. Unfortunately, normal values for children vary widely depending on which machine is used and the previous experience of the clinic.
Blood tests. Tests to measure serum calcium and potassium levels.
The effects of this disease can best be managed with early diagnosis and treatment. In secondary osteoporosis, treatment may include treating the underlying cause of the disease. Some of the methods used to treat osteoporosis are also the methods used to help prevent it from ever developing. Treatment may include:
Helping your child to maintain an appropriate body weight
Increasing walking and other weight-bearing exercises
Minimizing the amount of caffeine in your child's diet
Helping your child maintain an adequate intake of calcium through diet and supplements. Vitamin D is essential for normal calcium absorption.
Consult your child's doctor regarding a medication regimen.
In the case of idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis, treatment may not be necessary. IJO often resolves itself spontaneously. Nevertheless, managing the bone loss is important during a child's important bone-building years. Treatment for IJO may include:
Protection of spine and other bones from fractures
Medications (to manage the symptoms)