What is Secondary Osteoporosis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Secondary osteoporosis is a form of osteoporosis which occurs as a secondary complication of a medical condition or lifestyle habit. It can be complicated to treat because the cause of the osteoporosis needs to be addressed along with the bone loss. People of all ages can develop secondary osteoporosis, although the condition can be especially dangerous in children because it can cause damage which will linger for life, including impairments to growth which cause disability.

Osteoporosis may occur as a secondary complication of a medical condition or lifestyle habit.
Osteoporosis may occur as a secondary complication of a medical condition or lifestyle habit.

Osteoporosis occurs when the body's natural balance of bone resorption and formation of new bone becomes imbalanced. The body starts to break down bone without replacing it, causing bone loss. This leads to increased fragility, and a high risk of fractures and other problems. When bones do fracture, they take longer to heal and may heal improperly because the body lacks the ability to rebuild the broken bone in a timely fashion. Osteoporosis is often associated with older adults, but secondary osteoporosis can strike at any age.

Weight-bearing exercise helps strengthen bones and ward off breaks and fractures.
Weight-bearing exercise helps strengthen bones and ward off breaks and fractures.

A number of medical conditions can cause secondary osteoporosis including some cancers, hormone imbalances, kidney failure, rheumatoid arthritis, liver failure, multiple sclerosis, and scurvy. Medications used to manage medical conditions, such as corticosteroids, some hormones, and lithium, can also contribute to the development of secondary osteoporosis. Lifestyle choices such as excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can also be causes.

When someone starts to experience bone loss as a result of secondary osteoporosis, the doctor's first task is to identify the cause of the bone loss. Once the cause is identified, it can be addressed with treatments which are designed to limit damage to the body, even if it cannot be cured. The patient may also receive treatment for the osteoporosis, such as physical therapy, as increased physical activity seems to be promote bone growth, along with nutritional advice to ensure that the body has plenty of material to work with when it comes to making new bone.

Loss of bone mass is a cause for concern at any age. It is often identified when someone experiences a fracture and x-rays reveal changes in bone mass or signs of bone loss. If someone develops secondary osteoporosis, it is important to get it treated, and when it is caused by a chronic condition, to monitor bone health for life for any signs of significant changes. People who are at increased risk of secondary osteoporosis should also talk with their doctors about the condition and ways in which they can avoid it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A lady that I work with has an autoimmune condition that she takes corticosteroids for. It certainly helps her manage her condition, but the steroids cause side effects.

As the article mentioned, one of the possible side effects is secondary osteoporosis. My coworker developed this fairly recently. Now she has do physical therapy and other osteoporosis treatments, along with her treatments for the autoimmune disorder.

It just seems so unfair. She already struggles with one health condition, now she has another added to it!


@Esther11 - Scientists don't know for sure what causes the kind of osteoporosis that women get after menopause. Something goes wrong with the bone's ability to build new bone efficiently after it gets reabsorbed and lost. One reason this happens is because the level of the hormone, estrogen, goes way down. This is one important key to keeping bones dense. Estrogen is given to menopausal women to slow down bone loss.

When someone gets secondary osteoporosis, it is a side effect of having another disease, like cancer,liver or kidney failure, high alcohol consumption and others. You can get it at any age, even as a young child.

Those with osteoporosis are at risk for fractures,damaged bones,and loss of height. There are many treatments that can help - take calcium and vitamin D, eat good nutritious meals, do exercises that strengthen bones, walk, take care to avoid falls, and, of course, get treatment for the condition that caused you to get secondary osteoporosis.


I have a question. Why do so many women start to get osteoporosis soon after menopause? I know of three women in my office who started having problems with low bone density just a few years after menopause. They all had bone density tests which confirmed the diagnosis.

How is regular osteoporosis different from secondary osteoporosis? I think all these women have regular osteoporosis.

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