What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is a condition of having low bone density compared to others of the same age. Bone Mass Density (BMD) refers to the mass and strength of the bone.
Osteopenia is not a disease but it can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Different types of osteopenia arise due to different health conditions associated with a person.
There usually are no osteopenia symptoms. A loss of bone density does not cause any pain.
Who is at risk?
Osteopenia risk factors include:
- being female, with small-boned women of Asian and Caucasian descent having a higher risk
- family history of low BMD
- being older than age 50
- menopause before age 45
- removal of ovaries before menopause
- not getting enough exercise
- a poor diet, lacking calcium and vitamin D
- smoking or using other forms of tobacco
- drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
- Certain other conditions can also increase your risk of developing osteopenia like anorexia, bulimia, hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
Osteopenia happens when the body loses more bone than it is creating. General osteopenia causes include old age, hormone changes, and having a family history of the condition.
Certain medical conditions can trigger the occurrence of osteopenia. They include:
- Eating disorders: Some eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, can starve the body of nutrients that are necessary to maintain strong bones.
- Untreated celiac disease: People with untreated celiac disease can damage their small intestine by eating food with gluten in them.
- Overactive thyroid: Too many thyroid medications can add to developing the condition.
- Chemotherapy: Exposure to radiation can also play a major role.
- Medications: Certain medications including some steroids and anti-seizure drugs can also play a role.
Certain unhealthy lifestyle habits and problems can contribute to developing the condition. These include:
- Lack of exercise, especially strength training
- Lack of calcium or vitamin D in the diet
- Consumption of too much alcohol
- Consumption of carbonated beverages
How is Osteopenia diagnosed?
Since osteopenia usually doesn’t have any symptoms, osteopenia diagnosis may be hard unless one takes a BMD test.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the test if you are:
- a woman age 65 or older
- younger than 65, postmenopausal, and have one or more risk factors
- postmenopausal and you’ve broken a bone from normal activity, like pushing a chair to stand up or vacuuming
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, called DEXA or DXA, is the most common BMD used by doctors. It’s also known as a bone mineral density test. It uses X-rays that have lower radiation than a typical X-ray and is a painless and fast test.
DEXA usually measures bone density levels in your spine, hip, wrist, finger, shin, or heel. It compares the density of your bone to the density of a 30-year-old’s of the same sex and race.
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How is Osteopenia treated?
The goal of osteopenia treatment is to prevent the condition from progressing into osteoporosis.Treatment for osteopenia cure may include the following:
- Diet: Calcium and vitamin D help in building bone strength. Nutritional guidance may include eating more food that increases bone strength. Foods with high calcium content include leafy green vegetables, dairy, and sardines. Food sources rich in vitamin D include beef liver, oily or fatty fish, and fortified cereal.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help prevent further bone loss and improve bone density. An efficient exercise plan should include both muscle-strengthening exercises as well as weight-bearing exercises. Muscle-strengthening exercises may include bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, planks, and squats; lifting weights and using weight machines. Weight-bearing exercises include activities like dancing, climbing, and walking. These will also reduce your risk of falling.
- Medication: An osteopenia doctor may not prescribe medicine for osteopenia until the patient’s condition progresses to osteoporosis. However, if a patient with osteopenia has already suffered from a fracture, an orthopedician may prescribe medication that works by preventing bone absorption.
How can Osteopenia be prevented?
The best way to prevent osteopenia is to avoid or stop any of the behaviors that cause it. Strategies like participating in weight-bearing exercises and eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can also help in the prevention of osteopenia.
Additional lifestyle changes that can help in preventing the condition are:
- Avoiding nicotine: Smoking and other forms of consuming nicotine can affect the body’s absorption and maintenance of calcium and can speed bone loss.
- Reducing phosphate-containing soda: Sodas containing phosphate acid and caffeine can decrease the level of calcium as well as affect bone density.
- Limiting salt: Foods high in salt can lead to loss of calcium and decreased bone density.