Osteopenia

  • Medical Author:
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

View the Osteoporosis Slideshow Pictures

Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis

It is important to note that while osteopenia is considered a lesser degree of bone loss than osteoporosis, it nevertheless can be of concern when it is associated with other risk factors (such as smoking, cortisone steroid usage, rheumatoid arthritis, family history of osteoporosis, etc.) that can increase the chances for developing vertebral, hip, and other fractures. In this setting, osteopenia may require medication as part of the treatment program.

Quick GuideOsteoporosis Pictures Slideshow: Are Your Bones at Risk?

Osteoporosis Pictures Slideshow: Are Your Bones at Risk?

Osteopenia facts

  • Osteopenia is decreased bone density but not to the extent of osteoporosis. This decreased bone density leads to bone fragility and an increased chance of breaking a bone (fracture).
  • Women over the age of 65 and any postmenopausal woman with risk factors for bone loss should be tested for osteopenia or osteoporosis. The DXA scan is a widely available and accurate method for diagnosing osteopenia or osteoporosis.
  • Not everyone with osteopenia requires treatment with prescription medications. Your doctor can determine if you should be treated based on your bone density and other risk factors.
  • An adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, avoiding excessive alcohol, not smoking, and getting plenty of exercise can help prevent osteopenia.
  • While most people affected by osteopenia are women, men can also be affected by osteopenia and osteoporosis and should be evaluated for these bone conditions when they are considered to be at risk.

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a bone condition characterized by a decreased density of bone, which leads to bone weakening and an increased risk of breaking a bone (fracture).

Osteomalacia, osteomyelitis, and osteoarthritis are different conditions that are frequently confused with osteopenia because they sound similar. Osteomalacia is a disorder of the mineralization of newly formed bone, which causes the bone to be weak and more prone to fracture. There are many causes of osteomalacia, including vitamin D deficiency and low blood phosphate levels. Osteomyelitis is bone infection. Osteoarthritis is joint inflammation featuring cartilage loss and is the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis does not cause osteopenia, osteoporosis, or a decreased bone mineral density.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/4/2016
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