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Bones are made up of calcium along with some other minerals like phosphate. When the density of these minerals decreases, it leads to weakening of the bones. Thus, leading to bone disorders like osteopenia. Let us have a look at osteopenia and its causes in the following paragraphs.

What is Osteopenia?

The bone condition where the bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than the normal bone mineral density. However, the BMD level is not very low enough to be categorized as osteoporosis. Osteopenia indicates that the bones are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis and weak enough to suffer from fractures. According to WHO, when the T score is less than -1.0 and greater than -2.5, it is defined as osteopenia.  It is not just women, but also men who are at risk of developing weak bones, that is, osteopenia.

Difference Between Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

The factors that help differentiate between osteopenia and osteoporosis are as follows:

  • Osteopenia is not a disease. It is a precursor for developing the disease- osteoporosis.
  • Osteopenia is related to low bone density, that is less than -1.0 and greater than -2.5 on the score. Osteoporosis is a disease where the T score indicates low bone mass below -2.5.
  • The bone loss is osteopenia is not as severe as observed in osteoporosis.

What Causes Osteopenia?

It is very natural to lose bone mass with age. However, when bones lose minerals, mass as well as structure at a faster rate it increases the risk of fracture. By the time a person reaches the age of 30 years, they will begin losing bone mass. Thus, the thicker the bones are when one is 30 years old, lesser are the at risk of developing osteopenia. There are many causes of osteopenia. Some of these causes include:

  • Women are at a much higher risk of developing osteopenia and osteoporosis than men. This is because their bone density is lower than the bone density of men.
  • People who are thin or have a small body
  • Women who have undergone menopause before age
  • Women who suffer from abnormal menstrual periods or suffer from absence of menstruation
  • Women with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia
  • Women athletes are at a much higher risk as they tend to exercise more
  • Poor diet, especially a diet that has low dairy intake like milk and milk products
  • People who follow an inactive life
  • Men with low testosterone levels
  • Chain smokers and alcoholics
  • People who are on long-term glucocorticosteriod medication, anti-seizure medications and undergo chemotherapy for cancer
  • People who suffer from hyperthyroidism
  • Family history of osteoporosis and hip fracture
  • Drinking excessive carbonated drinks

Symptoms of Osteopenia

During the initial stages, one does not show any typical signs of bone density loss or osteopenia. Osteopenia is usually diagnosed when one suffers from a fracture. These fractures usually strike the bones of the spinal cord, wrist and hips. Other symptoms include:

  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Poor posture or bending of the spinal cord
  • Loss of height
  • Tender long bones
  • Protruding abdomen
  • Slouching shoulders

Diagnoses of Osteopenia

Osteopenia is diagnosed with the help of dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. The DEXA scan also helps in diagnosing osteoporosis. A bone mineral density (BMD) test also helps in diagnosing osteopenia.

Treatment of Osteopenia

The treatment and prevention of osteopenia are almost the same. One can overcome osteopenia by:

  • Reducing the intake of medications that lead to bone loss.
  • The doctor may advise medications such as bisphosphonates to cure osteopenia
  • One needs to increase their daily intake of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3 and K2 in their diet. This can be achieved only by including milk and milk products as well as green vegetables in your diet. Also, include eggs, salmon and other fish oils in your diet for vitamin D intake.
  • Sedentary lifestyle is not good for your health. Thus, make sure you exercise regularly to keep your bones strong and respond well to stress.
  • Quit smoking, reduce the intake of alcohol and avoid drinking carbonated drinks.
  • Start walking, jogging, climbing stairs to help your bones become stronger. Yoga and tai chi are some of the best exercises that will help make your body as well as bones strong.

This was a bit about osteopenia. Just like one cares for the health of their heart, they should also keep a watch on the health of their bones. Fractures are painful and tend to restrict one’s movements. Those diagnosed with osteopenia should start maintaining their diet and increase the intake of calcium. This is the only way to keep osteoporosis away. For further information, speak to your health care provider.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 4, 2015