Learning About Osteopenia

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What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a decrease in thickness, or density, in bones. That means the bones become thinner and weaker. It is much more common in women than in men. It is an early form of osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones are so thin and weak that they can break easily.

It's important to know that osteopenia is not a disease. It can happen normally with aging. Having osteopenia means that there is a greater risk that you may get osteoporosis.It also means that you are more likely to break a bone than someone who does not have osteopenia. But not everyone with osteopenia gets osteoporosis or breaks a bone.

Osteopenia doesn't cause any symptoms. It's usually found with a type of X-ray called a bone density test. Osteopeniameans that your bone density result (T-score) is between -1.0 and -2.5.

What increases the risk for osteopenia?

Things that increase your risk include:

  • Having a family history of osteoporosis.
  • Being thin.
  • Being white or Asian.
  • Getting too little physical activity.
  • Smoking.
  • Drinking too much alcohol often.
  • Using certain medicines such as steroids.

How can you prevent osteoporosis?

There are things you can do to slow down osteopenia and prevent osteoporosis. Certain lifestyle changes will help slow the loss of bone density.

  • Eat food that has plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt, cheese, milk, and dark green vegetables are high in calcium. Eggs, fatty fish, cereal, and fortified milk are high in vitamin D.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement that has vitamin D in it.
  • Get regular exercise.
    • Do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise on most days of the week. Walking, jogging, stair climbing, and dancing are good choices.
    • Do resistance exercises with weights or elastic bands 2 or 3 days a week.
  • Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make bones thin faster. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Prescription medicines are available for treating bone thinning. But these are more often used to treat osteoporosis.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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