Skip to content

Osteoporosis Health Center

Select An Article

Osteopenia: Early Signs of Bone Loss

Font Size

About 18 million Americans have osteopenia. Osteopenia refers to early signs of bone loss that can turn into osteoporosis. With osteopenia, bone mineral density is lower than normal. However, it is not yet low enough to be considered osteoporosis.

Not everyone who has osteopenia develops osteoporosis. But osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can result in easily fractured bones and other very serious bone problems. It can also cause disfigurement and lead to loss of mobility and independence.

Recommended Related to Osteoporosis

The Truth About Vitamin D: Drug Interactions

Does vitamin D interact with other medications? Yes. Steroid medications such as prednisone can interfere with vitamin D metabolism. If you take steroid drugs regularly, discuss vitamin D with your doctor. The weight loss drug orlistat -- brand names include Xenical and Alli -- may cut absorption of vitamin D. So does the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine (sold as Questran, LoCholest, and Prevalite). People taking these drugs should discuss vitamin intake with their doctors. The seizure...

Read the The Truth About Vitamin D: Drug Interactions article > >

How Is Osteopenia Diagnosed?

Bone health is measured in two ways. The first is bone density. Bone density defines the thickness of your bone. The second is bone mass. Bone mass means how much bone you have. Bone mass, or the amount of bone you have, usually peaks around age 30. Then bone mass begins to decline. Your body starts to reabsorb bone faster than new bone can be made.

To find bone density, your health care provider measures the levels of minerals in your bones. These minerals include:

The denser the content of your bone mineral is, the stronger your bones are.

With aging, your body absorbs back calcium and other minerals from your bones. This reabsorption can make your bones weaker and lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis. The bones become more vulnerable to fractures and other damage.

What Are Some Risk Factors for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

Risk factors for developing osteopenia are the same as those for developing osteoporosis. They include:

  • being female
  • being thin and/or having a small frame
  • getting too little calcium in the diet
  • smoking
  • leading an inactive lifestyle
  • a history of anorexia nervosa
  • a family history of osteoporosis
  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • early menopause

Most people with osteopenia don't know they have it. In fact, the first sign may be a broken bone. A broken bone may mean that the condition has already become osteoporosis.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Self-Test: Check Your Risk.

How Can my Doctor Test for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

The most accurate way to diagnose osteopenia and osteoporosis is through bone mineral density testing. This is usually done with a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan.

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Women working out and walking with weights
Reduce bone loss and build stronger muscles.
Chinese cabbage
Calcium-rich foods to add to your diet.
 
woman stretching
Get the facts on osteoporosis.
Porous bone
Causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.
 
Lactose Intolerance
Article
Woman holding plate of brocolli
Article
 
Dairy products
Tool
Superfood for Bones
Slideshow
 
Screening Tests for Women
Slideshow
exercise endometrial cancer
Article
 
hand holding medicine
Article
Working Out With Osteoporosis
Video