Osteopenia

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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). Osteopenia and osteoporosis are related conditions. The difference between osteopenia and osteoporosis is that in osteopenia the bone loss is not as severe as in osteoporosis. That means someone with osteopenia is more likely to fracture a bone than someone with a normal bone density but is less likely to fracture a bone than someone with osteoporosis.

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 8/27/2014

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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.