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HIV and Osteoporosis

July 31, 2015


Key Points
  • Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and easy to break. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist.
  • The main risk factor for osteoporosis is advancing age beyond 30. Anyone can get osteoporosis, but it's most common in older women.
  • Factors that may increase the risk of osteoporosis in people living with HIV include HIV infection itself and some HIV medicines (for example, tenofovir [brand name: Viread]). Also, HIV medicines are helping people with HIV live longer, and advancing age increases the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Other risk factors for osteoporosis include a poor diet, physical inactivity, and smoking. These risk factors can be managed by lifestyle changes. For example, eating a healthy diet that includes foods rich in calcium and vitamin D and doing weight-bearing exercises can make bones stronger and help slow the rate of bone loss.


What Is Osteoporosis?

The human body is made up of more than 200 bones, from the skull to the bones of the toes. We depend on bones to hold us up, help us move, and protect our internal organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and easy to break. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist.

The main risk factor for osteoporosis is advancing age beyond 30. Anyone can get osteoporosis, but it's most common in older women.


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Are People With HIV at Risk of Osteoporosis?

Yes. Experts are not sure why, but bone loss occurs faster in people living with HIV. Factors that increase the rate of bone loss in people with HIV may include:

Staying healthy with HIV includes taking steps to prevent osteoporosis.


What Are Other Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

There are many risk factors for osteoporosis. Some risk factors, such as HIV infection, can't be changed. Other risk factors, for example a poor diet or lack of exercise, can be managed with lifestyle choices.

Risk factors for osteoporosis that can't be changed include:

The following risk factors for osteoporosis can be controlled by lifestyle choices:


How Does Osteoporosis Develop?

To maintain healthy bones, our body constantly replaces old bone tissue with new bone tissue. Up to about age 30, bone tissue is replaced faster than it is lost. But beyond age 30, the reverse is true: more bone is broken down than is replaced.

Osteoporosis develops when bone loss is so great that bones can break easily.

There is no cure for osteoporosis. However, once the disease develops, there are medicines that can slow down bone loss or increase bone formation.


What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because bone loss occurs without symptoms. The first sign of osteoporosis is often a broken bone.

A bone density test is used to measure bone strength and diagnose osteoporosis. The test takes about 15 minutes and is safe, painless, and requires no preparation. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends all women above the age of 65 have a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis. There are currently no recommendations for routine screening for osteoporosis in people living with HIV, but individuals infected with HIV may wish to discuss bone density testing with their health care providers.


What Are Steps to Take to Prevent Osteoporosis?

Preventing osteoporosis means making lifestyle choices to reduce the risk of the disease.


How Can I Learn More About Osteoporosis?

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:




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