What You Need to Know about Osteopenia, Osteoporosis and HIV

HIV+ individuals are at higher risk for bone fractures. Ever wonder why? Because HIV—the disease, treatment and lifestyle—often contribute to osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Defining Our Terms

There are two major factors to bone health:

  1. Density of bone matter
  2. Integrity of bone matter

Osteopenia is the condition in which bones lose density. Osteoporosis is the condition in which bones become porous and brittle. One or both of these conditions makes bones more fragile and susceptible to fractures.

The Connection between HIV and Bone Health

The HIV virus itself and some HIV drugs (particularly those used in early treatment) can weaken bones. Natural immune response may also leach nutrients, like calcium, from your bones, further deteriorating density and integrity.

People with HIV often lead lifestyles that include many of the typical risk factors for osteopenia and osteoporosis, such as:

  • Poor diet (i.e. diet low in essential nutrients like bio-available calcium and vitamin D)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption

Hormonal changes during menopause (and andropause to a lesser extent) also contribute to bone deterioration.

How to Maintain Bone Health

Having the HIV virus and/or taking HIV medication does not make poor bone health inevitable. People with HIV can maintain their bone health by doing the same things recommended for others at high risk for osteopenia and/or osteoporosis:

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D—talk to your primary care provider to test your current levels and get a prescription-strength supplement if necessary
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Have HIV medications evaluated and adjusted
  • Get bone density screenings at least once every three years

Be proactive about your bone health. Ask your primary care provider to make maintaining bone density and integrity a priority.