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.

Quick GuideWhat Is Osteoporosis? Treatment, Symptoms, Medication

What Is Osteoporosis? Treatment, Symptoms, Medication

Osteopenia vs. osteoporosis

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.

Osteopenia vs. osteomalacia

Osteopenia is a bone condition characterized by decreased bone density, which leads to bone weakening and an increased risk of bone fracture. Osteomalacia is a bone disorder characterized by decreased mineralization of newly formed bone. Osteomalacia is caused by severe vitamin D deficiency (which can be nutritional or caused by a hereditary syndrome) and by conditions that cause very low blood phosphate levels (such as genetic syndromes and cancer related syndromes). People with osteomalacia and those with osteopenia may have no symptoms. Both osteomalacia and osteopenia increase the risk of breaking a bone. However, symptoms of osteomalacia include bone pain and muscle weakness, bone tenderness, difficulty walking, and muscle spasms. These symptoms are not caused by osteopenia.

What risk factors and causes of osteopenia?

Osteopenia has multiple causes. Common causes and risk factors include

  • genetics (familial predisposition to osteopenia or osteoporosis, a family history of early bone loss, and other genetic disorders);
  • hormonal causes, including decreased estrogen (such as in women after menopause) or testosterone;
  • smoking;
  • excess alcohol;
  • thin frame;
  • immobility;
  • certain medications (such as corticosteroids, including prednisone) and antiseizure medications;
  • malabsorption due to conditions (such as celiac sprue);
  • and chronic inflammation due to medical conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/31/2017

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