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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Osteopenia - Overview

How is it treated?

Osteopenia is treated by taking steps to keep it from progressing to osteoporosis and, for a few people, by taking medicine. Lifestyle changes can help reduce the bone loss that leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis.

What you eat is very important to bone development. Calcium is the most critical mineral for bone mass. Your best sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, green vegetables, and calcium-enriched products.

Your doctor may also want you to take a calcium supplement, often combined with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and other minerals. It is found in eggs, salmon, sardines, swordfish, and some fish oils. It is added to milk and can be taken in calcium and vitamin supplements. In addition to what you take in from food, your body makes vitamin D in response to sunlight.

Exercise is important for having strong bones, because bone forms in response to stress. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, and dancing are all good choices. Adding exercise with light weights or elastic bands can help the bones in the upper body. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about starting an exercise program.

In addition to diet and exercise, quitting smoking and avoiding excessive use of alcohol and cola will also reduce your risk of bone loss.

There are medicines for treating bone thinning. But these are more commonly used if you have progressed past osteopenia to the more serious condition of osteoporosis. Medicines that may be used for osteopenia include bisphosphonates, raloxifene, and hormone replacement. For more information on these medicines, see the topic Osteoporosis.

How can osteopenia be prevented?

Whether you will tend to develop osteopenia is, in part, already determined. Things like whether you have any family members who have had osteoporosis or osteopenia, whether you have chronic asthma that requires you to take steroids, and how much calcium and vitamin D you got while you were growing up are beyond your control now. But if you are a young adult or if you are raising children, there are things you can do to help develop strong bones and help slow down osteopenia and prevent osteoporosis.

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