Juvenile osteoporosis is a rare condition that affects children and adolescents. It causes excessive bone loss, inadequate bone development, or both.
Osteoporosis translates to “porous bones.” When it occurs, an individual has an increased risk of developing bone fractures due to excessive bone loss, insufficient bone formation, or both.
Often, an underlying condition causes someone to develop juvenile osteoporosis, but in some cases, doctors cannot find a cause.
This article looks at the types, causes, and treatments of juvenile osteoporosis and how it compares to osteogenesis imperfecta, a similar condition.
Someone may develop one of two types of osteoporosis: secondary or idiopathic.
In most cases, a child or teen will develop secondary osteoporosis.
In these cases, an underlying illness causes the individual to develop osteoporosis.
Both adults and children can develop secondary forms of the disease.
Several factors can lead to secondary osteoporosis, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, certain medications, and behaviors such as inactivity or smoking.
Idiopathic osteoporosis refers to when a doctor cannot determine the underlying cause of bone loss. This type of osteoporosis is rare.
Often, previously healthy children will develop idiopathic osteoporosis prior to puberty. It may develop anywhere from age 1 to 13, with an average age of onset being 7 years old.
The causes of juvenile osteoporosis vary based on the type the individual has.
Children who develop idiopathic osteoporosis have no known cause. In other words, a doctor cannot trace the cause back to an illness, medication, or behavior.
Secondary osteoporosis, on the other hand, may result from a variety of conditions, medications, or behaviors.
Several illnesses and underlying health conditions can cause juvenile osteoporosis to develop. Some examples include:
- kidney disease
- sickle cell anemia
- juvenile arthritis
- Cushing’s syndrome
- osteogenesis imperfecta
- malabsorption syndromes
- anorexia nervosa
- Turner syndrome
- cystic fibrosis
A child’s doctor may identify another underlying condition. Figuring out the exact cause will aid in the treatment of secondary osteoporosis.
The use of certain medications can cause juvenile osteoporosis. Some common causes include:
- corticosteroids: often used to treat asthma or juvenile arthritis
- anticonvulsants: often prescribed for epilepsy
- immunosuppressive agents: often used in cancer care and autoimmune disorders
Certain behaviors or lifestyles can cause someone to develop juvenile osteoporosis. Some potential causes include:
- excessive exercise that leads to the absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
- alcohol misuse
- lack of calcium and vitamin D
- prolonged periods of immobility or inactivity
Osteogenesis imperfecta is a rare genetic disorder that a person is born with. The condition affects both connective tissue and bones. It can also cause atypical bone growth.
The symptoms of osteogenesis imperfecta can vary from person to person, as can the age of onset of symptoms.
Both conditions can cause an individual to fracture bones more easily. However, while osteoporosis only affects the bones, osteogenesis imperfecta can affect other areas of the body, including:
- ligament flexibility
- muscle strength
They also differ in their causes. Most cases of osteoporosis occur due to an underlying condition, including osteogenesis imperfecta.
By contrast, osteogenesis imperfecta is the result of a gene mutation that causes issues with bone collagen quality.
To distinguish between the two, a doctor will likely need to:
- examine the individual’s family history to check for the presence of osteogenesis imperfecta
- check the eyes for the presence of purple, gray, or blue sclera often found with osteogenesis imperfecta
- do genetic testing or a bone biopsy in some cases
Treatments for juvenile osteoporosis vary based on the type as well as the underlying cause of the osteoporosis.
In cases of idiopathic osteoporosis, the condition may go away on its own spontaneously.
In the case of secondary osteoporosis, a doctor will need to treat the underlying condition. Once someone has treated the condition causing secondary osteoporosis, the osteoporosis itself should also clear up.
Until disease remission occurs, a doctor will likely recommend strategies to prevent spine or other bone damage. Some possible steps a doctor may recommend include:
- using assistive devices, such as crutches
- eating a well-balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D supplements
- avoiding weight-bearing activities
- doing physical therapy
The majority of children and adolescents who develop juvenile osteoporosis experience a full recovery from the condition with no long-term side effects or complications.
During the course of the disease, they may lose some bone growth.
However, they will also often experience bone growth again once they no longer have the condition.
Permanent disability can occur in some rare cases. This can include the collapse of the rib cage or curving of the upper spine.
Juvenile osteoporosis involves the weakening of bones that can lead to easy fractures.
There are two types of juvenile osteoporosis: secondary and idiopathic. Treatment typically involves helping to prevent injury due to weakened bones as well as treating any other underlying conditions.
Most children will experience full recovery. However, in some cases, a child may develop a permanent disability. Taking precautionary steps can help prevent long-term complications.