, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp 295-323
Date: 21 Aug 2012

Osteoporosis in Children and Adolescents

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Bone mass increases progressively during childhood, but mainly during adolescence when approximately 40% of total bone mass is accumulated. Peak bone mass is reached in late adolescence, and is a well recognised risk factor for osteoporosis later in life. Thus, increasing peak bone mass can prevent osteoporosis.

The critical interpretation of bone mass measurements is a crucial factor for the diagnosis of osteopenia/osteoporosis in children and adolescents. To date, there are insufficient data to formally define osteopenia/osteoporosis in this patient group, and the guidelines used for adult patients are not applicable. In males and females aged <20 years the terminology ‘low bone density for chronologic age’ may be used if the Z-score is less than −2. For children and adolescents, this terminology is more appropriate than osteopenia/osteoporosis. Moreover, the T-score should not be used in children and adolescents.

Many disorders, by various mechanisms, may affect the acquisition of bone mass during childhood and adolescence. Indeed, the number of disorders that have been identified as affecting bone mass in this age group is increasing as a consequence of the wide use of bone mass measurements. The increased survival of children and adolescents with chronic diseases or malignancies, as well as the use of some treatment regimens has resulted in an increase in the incidence of reduced bone mass in this age group.

Experience in treating the various disorders associated with osteoporosis in childhood is limited at present. The first approach to osteoporosis management in children and adolescents should be aimed at treating the underlying disease. The use of bisphosphonates in children and adolescents with osteoporosis is increasing and their positive effect in improving bone mineral density is encouraging. Osteoporosis prevention is a key factor and it should begin in childhood. Pediatricians should have a fundamental role in the prevention of osteoporosis, suggesting strategies to achieve an optimal peak bone mass.