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 (and osteoporosis) 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.
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
Bone density screening is performed using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which uses low dose x-ray. The exam is safe, painless, and takes only about 15 minutes to complete. Bone density screening exams are recommended for women age 65 and above, and for men age 70 and above. For patients with additional risk factors, earlier screening may be recommended. Speak with your doctor about what is right for you.