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.
A bone density scan can detect thinning bones at an early stage. If you already have osteoporosis, bone scans can also tell you how fast the disease is progressing.
But an abnormal bone scan can create as many questions as it answers. Who should get a bone density scan, and what do the results mean? If your bone density is below normal, what can you expect, and what should you do?
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: