Osteopenia is a loss of bone mineral density (BMD) that weakens bones. It’s more common in people older than 50, especially women. Osteopenia has no signs or symptoms, but a painless screening test can measure bone strength. Certain lifestyle changes can help you preserve bone density and prevent osteoporosis.
Osteopenia is a loss of bone mineral density (BMD). Lower BMD indicates you have fewer minerals in your bones than you should, which makes bones weaker.
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Osteopenia isn’t as severe as osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones so much that they can break more easily. Not everyone with osteopenia develops osteoporosis, but it can happen. People with osteopenia should try to strengthen and protect their bones. And their healthcare providers should monitor their bone mineral density.
Osteopenia is a common condition, affecting about 34 million Americans. It’s especially common among:
Bones are made of living tissue. Up until about age 30, a healthy person builds more bone than he or she loses. But after age 35, bones begin to break down faster than they build up. Even in a healthy person, bone density decreases throughout life, by less than 1 percent per year.
Some things can make bone loss happen more quickly, leading to osteopenia, such as:
Osteopenia usually doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms until it progresses to osteoporosis. Rarely, some people with osteopenia may experience bone pain or weakness. The condition is usually detected when a person has a BMD screening.
To diagnose low bone mineral density, a healthcare provider will:
Bone density is measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). DEXA is a quick and painless imaging test that uses X-rays to determine whether you have healthy bones, osteopenia or osteoporosis. It provides a score called a T-score:
DEXA gives healthcare providers a “baseline measurement.” That means they can compare the current test results to future results to determine whether bone density decreases over time.
There’s no cure for osteopenia, but it’s important to preserve bone density as much as possible. Treatment involves simple strategies to keep your bones as healthy and strong as possible and prevent progression to osteoporosis:
Your healthcare provider will also want to monitor your bone density over time in case you develop osteoporosis.
Several strategies can help you maintain bone strength and prevent bone loss:
If you’re diagnosed with osteopenia, you will need regular bone density tests to monitor bone health, usually every two to three years.
Not everyone with osteopenia develops osteoporosis. Changes to your lifestyle can keep bone loss to a minimum. For those who do develop osteoporosis, some treatments can help protect and strengthen the bones.
Falls are the leading cause of fractures in people with low bone density. Besides making healthy lifestyle choices to maintain bone density, it’s important to prevent falls. Precautions may include:
Talk to your healthcare provider about a bone density test if you:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Osteopenia is a loss of bone mineral density (BMD). The condition doesn’t usually have any signs or symptoms until it progresses to osteoporosis. If you have any risk factors for osteopenia, talk to your doctor about screening for low BMD. Lifestyle choices and some treatments can help slow bone loss.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/29/2021.
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