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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Osteopenia: Early Signs of Bone Loss

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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.

DXA scan results are reported as T-scores:

  • Normal bone: T-score above -1
  • Osteopenia: T-score between -1 and -2.5
  • Osteoporosis: T-score of -2.5 or lower

Other tests can be done to help diagnose osteoporosis and osteopenia. Quantitative ultrasound is one such test. It uses sound waves rather than X-rays to assess bone density and strength. DXA scans are usually still needed to confirm results from ultrasound and other tests.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Diagnosing Osteoporosis.

Who Should Get a Bone Density Test?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises bone density scans if:

  • You are a woman age 65 or older.
  • You are a woman age 60 or older with certain risk factors that put you at increased risk of fracture.
  • You are a man age 70 or older.

Talk to your health care provider to determine the best screening plan for you.

The Female Athlete Triad and Osteopenia

The female athlete triad is a combination of three medical conditions that are becoming increasingly common in young female athletes. These conditions are eating disorders, amenorrhea -- or lack of menstrual periods, and osteopenia or low bone mass. These issues are of growing concern mainly because of the media's increased pressure on teens to maintain a "perfect" body weight and be thin.

Female athletes who compete in gymnastics, dancing, swimming, skating, and running are at high risk for the female athlete triad as they strive to appear lean and fit.

We know that more female athletes lack a menstrual period than women in the general population. Not having a period is associated with decreased estrogen levels. Decreased estrogen levels may be the cause of low bone mass or osteopenia.

Low-calorie diets are usually the first predictor of eating disorders. Excessive exercise or exercise obsession can be another sign of an eating disorder. Each of these three problems must be medically evaluated and treated to ensure a good outcome for the woman.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Are You at Risk?

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