What is the Difference between Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

Published: 13th August 2009
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Osteopenia and osteoporosis are both conditions of decreased bone density. The difference between osteopenia and osteoporosis lies in the degree of severity.

Osteopenia is defined as significant loss of bone mass. Generally, no symptoms are associated with osteopenia. A diagnosis of osteopenia is important mainly because people who have osteopenia are at risk of develop osteoporosis in the future if their bone loss continues to worsen.

Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones have become significantly brittle so that people in this group are at very high risk for debilitating bone fractures such as hip fractures and compression fractures of the bones in the spine called vertebrae. Vertebral compression fractures can lead to significant back pain and can also lead to a severe stooping of posture.

How do I know if I am at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis?

Both osteoporosis and osteopenia share the same risk factors and causes. These include age, gender, low calcium intake as a child and teenager, family history and the use of certain medications. If it is felt that you may be at risk, your doctor may order a DXA (Dual X-ray Absorptiometry) test. This x-ray test compares your bone density to that of the average 30 year old as a standard. If your bone density is between 1 and 2.5 standard deviations below the standard, then you have osteopenia. If your score is more than 2.5 standard deviations below the standard, then you have osteoporosis.

It is important to know if you are at risk, because there are ways to stop and even reverse bone loss. Many people are never tested for osteopenia or osteoporosis until they have a fracture. It is never too late to do something about it. Some of the steps you can take to maintain or improve your bone density include diet, exercise, calcium and vitamin d supplementation and possibly medications.

If you have been already diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, start taking steps stop or reverse its courses. If you are worried that you have risk factors, start now to take steps to prevent it. Many people underestimate the negative impact osteoporosis can have on our lives and those close to us.

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