Osteopenia vs Osteoporosis: What is the Difference?
What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is a diagnosis of low bone density. It is different from osteoporosis, which also refers to low bone density, because it is less severe. If you have osteopenia, you have a greater risk for osteoporosis however, not all people who are diagnosed with osteopenia will get osteoporosis. Some people may naturally have lower bone density and others may have low bone density due to certain diseases or treatments.
Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with osteopenia than men. It is believed that the hormonal changes that occur throughout a woman’s life play a role in the loss of bone density over time.
Osteopenia Risk Factors
- Being female
- Having a family history of osteoporosis
- Being thin
- Being White or Asian
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive use of alcohol
There are no symptoms for osteopenia, which makes screening so important. A screening exam allows your doctor to make a diagnosis early, and to prescribe treatments that may help in preventing further bone loss.
Osteoporosis: The Silent Disease that Affects Nearly Half of American Women
Known as a silent disease, osteoporosis causes bone loss, which can lead to serious injury and chronic pain, and most people don’t even know they have it. With bone density screening, a safe and painless exam, people who have osteoporosis or are at risk for developing it, can be diagnosed before they suffer a broken bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 22 million Americans have low bone density or osteoporosis.
It is a safe and painless exam that uses high frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. The ultrasound will show the abdominal aorta, aneurysms and other abnormalities. If you’ve had your Medicare Initial Preventative Physical Exam and your physician feels the screening exam would be beneficial to you, it is covered by Medicare.
While osteoporosis affects both women and men, women are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with the disease. It is estimated that about 50% of women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis and about 25% of men will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the following factors put you at higher risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Over age 50
- Menopausal or post-menopausal
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Small stature
- Previous broken bones or height loss
- Not eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, calcium and vitamin D
- Inactive lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol use
If you are diagnosed with osteopenia, your doctor will recommend an appropriate course of action based on your medical history and physical condition. Your doctor’s recommendations may include:
- Increasing calcium in your diet and/or taking a calcium supplement
- Adding vitamin D to your diet or supplements, because it helps the body to absorb calcium
- Add weight-bearing exercises like walking, weight training, dancing, or tennis
- Quit smoking
- Avoid or reduce alcoholic drinks
Screening for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis
Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, also known as a DEXA scan, is the preferred method for diagnosing osteoporosis or osteopenia, which means low bone density and is a pre-curser to osteoporosis. During a DEXA scan, you’ll lie on a table while a scanner passes over your body. You may need to hold your breath for a few seconds. This exam takes only about 15 minutes to complete and can help you and your doctor know if you have osteoporosis or if you may be at risk for it.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare, cover bone density tests if you have one or more risk factors. Contact your insurance carrier to check what’s covered under your specific plan. Most insurance policies will also cover a repeat scan every two years.
Schedule Your Bone Density Screening with Association of Alexandria Radiologists
Our bone density tests are conducted by certified bone densitometry technologists and interpreted by board certified radiologists. Bone density scans are offered at our Alexandria and Woodbridge imaging centers.