Osteopenia is a condition characterized by low bone mass. Although not as low as osteoporosis, osteopenia is the result of a loss of calcium and minerals from the bones. If too many minerals are lost, bones become more porous, brittle and considerably weak. Individuals with osteopenia usually do not experience any symptoms, however they may be at risk for eventually developing osteoporosis and may have a have a higher risk of bone fractures. Osteopenia becomes more common as people age, and women are more likely to develop osteopenia than men.
Osteopenia may be a result of the natural aging process, however, there are other risk factors for developing osteopenia which may include:
- Family history
- Early menopause
- Over-active thyroid
- Low calcium intake
- Eating disorders such as anorexia
- Prolonged use of certain medication
Women who have had surgery to remove their ovaries before menopause may be at risk for osteopenia. Smoking and heavy alcohol use also may also put people at a higher risk for developing osteopenia.
Osteopenia is diagnosed through a physical examination and bone mineral density testing. A bone mineral density test estimates the strength of the bones by measuring the density of minerals like calcium. Treatment for osteopenia often consists of making lifestyle changes to maintain existing bone mass, such as increasing calcium intake through diet or supplements, and exercising to strengthen the bones.