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Osteopenia: Early Signs of Bone Loss

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Who Should Get a Bone Density Test?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advise that you receive screening bone density scans if:

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

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?

How Can I Prevent Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

Osteopenia is every woman's concern -- no matter what your age or health status. That's because osteopenia is the first step to full-blown osteoporosis or severe bone loss.

Moreover, fractures don't wait until you have osteoporosis. The risk of fractures increases as your bone density decreases. Once you have just one fracture, you are at a greater risk for more fractures. The good news is that osteopenia can be prevented or reversed before fractures occur. Here are some prevention tips:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Include plenty of calcium and vitamin D. You'll find these nutrients in foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, and broccoli.
  • Exercise regularly. Choose weight-bearing exercise like walking, running, or tennis. Also do strength training using weights or resistance bands.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation.
  • If you have gone through menopause, talk to your health care provider about the newer osteoporosis medications. Depending on your individual health and risk factors, he or she might recommend an osteoporosis medication.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Osteoporosis: Keeping Bones Strong.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 24, 2013
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