Ask the Doc
Ask the Doc
Ask The Expert
January 15, 2013
Osteopenia means “too little bone.” Osteoporosis, on the other hand, is an advanced form of osteopenia in which the bone loss is more severe.
With osteopenia, the risk of fracture risk may be only slightly higher. With osteoporosis, the risk of fracture is significantly higher.
You’d hear the term osteopenia most often as part of a bone density report. This would be noted when the amount of bone measured is mildly reduced, but not severe enough to qualify as osteoporosis.
Virtually everyone with osteoporosis at one time had osteopenia. That’s because he process of bone loss is typically quite gradual. It progresses from normal bone to osteopenia to osteoporosis over many years.
Not all people with osteopenia go on to develop osteoporosis. In fact, most often bone loss may stop or slow down so much that it never becomes severe.
Once you’ve gotten osteopenia, there is no precise way to estimate whether you will go on to develop osteoporosis. Many factors are involved in the rate of bone loss over time. These include:
- Family history
- Ethnic background
- Age and gender
- Calcium and vitamin D intake
- Hormone replacement therapy or other drugs that prevent or slow bone loss
- Medical problems and drugs you take for other conditions
- Weight-bearing exercise
- Alcohol intake
- Smoking history
How much each of these factors contributes may change over time. For instance, bone loss is very gradual in most women during early adulthood. But around menopause, bone loss becomes more rapid. And while you cannot change some factors — like your genes, gender or age — you can change many of the other risk factors.
If you have osteopenia (mild bone loss), review your risk factors with your doctor. And be sure to get enough weight-bearing exercise, calcium and vitamin D. If bone loss continues over time, you may need additional tests and treatments.
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