Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis



Osteopenia,pronounced ‘ost-e-o-pee-nee-a’h, means that bones are weak and have low bone density. The microscopic architecture of the bone is thin but the structure is generally intact.

Osteoporosis means that the bones are even weaker because some of the internal connections have dissolved completely. Osteoporosis is a disease state that is diagnosed when the bone is so brittle that it might break if a minor fall occurs.

A DXA scan is a test for osteoporosis, but it is not the only way to make the diagnosis. The diagnosis of osteoporosis can also be made when a patient has the combination of osteopenia and a fracture. The presence of a fracture from a minor fall is proof that the bone is very weak, sometimes regardless of the DXA scan. Osteoporosis can also be diagnosed before a fracture occurs when the DXA scan shows extremely low bone density.

The U.S. Surgeon General reported in 2010 that 12 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 40 million have osteopenia, but those numbers are growing because people are living longer. Both conditions should be taken seriously because the low bone density associated with osteopenia may rob a person of their ability to enjoy life to the same degree as osteoporosis.  People with osteopenia are likely to have arthritis and lower back pain. Even among young people, having low bone density increases the risk of injury from sports and can worsen spinal deformity. And joint replacement surgery- the procedure in which the arthritic or dysfunctional joint surface is replaced with an orthopedic prosthesis- is more likely to fail if bone density is below normal.

Because such a large number of people have low bone density, there are actually more fractures resulting from bone density than there are from osteoporosis. One contributor may be that people with an existing diagnosis of osteoporosis are more careful, or they may already be receiving medical treatment. The unwary individuals with low bone density are at risk for broken bones from even a minor fall. When that happens, the body loses bone density quickly because of the lower activity levels from the broken bone and because the fractured bone deprives calcium from healthy bones as a means to heal the fracture.

So, it is vitally important to start a bone health program before a diagnosis of osteoporosis. The Institute for Better Bone Health and Mayo Clinic advocate taking measures to improve your bone density – including DXA scans and healthy nutrition through foods and natural bone health supplements*. Preventing the first break and staying healthy is much easier than trying to recover after bones start to fall apart. Even young people should take their bone health seriously to decrease their risk of injury, aches, pains, and deformity.

*Adequate calcium and vitamin D, throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

2 thoughts on “Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis”

  • Dwayne

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  • OtisWStolarz

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