Bone disease is a silent, disabling condition that develops through a woman’s life as age progresses.
Osteopenia refers to early signs of bone loss that can turn into osteoporosis. With osteopenia, bone mineral density (thickness) is lower than normal. However, it is not yet low enough to be considered osteoporosis.
It is important to remember that not everyone who has osteopenia develops osteoporosis. But osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can result in easily fractured bones and other very serious bone problems. It can also cause disfigurement and lead to loss of mobility and independence.
With ageing, your body absorbs back the minerals from your bones, leading to weaker bones and making them vulnerable to fractures and other damage.
How is Osteopenia Diagnosed?
Bone health is measured in two ways.
The first is bone density. Bone density defines the thickness of your bone.
The second is bone mass. Bone mass means how much bone you have. Bone mass, or the amount of bone you have, usually peaks around age 30. Then bone mass begins to decline. Your body starts to reabsorb bone faster than new bone can be made.
To find bone density, blood tests are done to measure the levels of minerals in your bones like:
- Vitamin D and its analogues
The denser the content of your bone mineral is, the stronger your bones are.
What are some risk factors for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?
Risk factors for developing osteopenia are the same as those for developing osteoporosis. They include:
- Being female
- Being thin and/or having a small frame
- Getting too little calcium in the diet
- Leading an inactive lifestyle
- A history of anorexia nervosa
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Early menopause
Most people with osteopenia don't know they have it. In fact, the first sign may be a broken bone. A broken bone may mean that the condition has already become osteoporosis.
How can my Doctor Test for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?
The most accurate way to diagnose osteopenia and osteoporosis is through bone mineral density testing. This is usually done with a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan.
DEXA scan results are reported as T-scores:
- Normal bone: T-score above -1
- Osteopenia: T-score between -1 and -2.5
- Osteoporosis: T-score of -2.5 or lower
Other tests can be done to help diagnose osteoporosis and osteopenia. Quantitative ultrasound is one such test. It measures the speed of sound in the bone to assess bone density and strength. However, DEXA scans are usually still needed to confirm results from ultrasound and other tests.
Who should get a Bone Density Test?
It is recommended that that you receive screening bone density scans if:
- You are a woman 65 or older
- You are a woman 60 or older with certain risk factors that put you at increased risk of fracture
The Female Athlete Triad and Osteopenia
The female athlete triad is a combination of three medical conditions that are becoming increasingly common in young female athletes. These conditions are eating disorders, amenorrhea -- or lack of menstrual periods, and osteopenia or low bone mass. These issues are of growing concern mainly because of the media's increased pressure on teens to maintain a "perfect" body weight and be thin.
Female athletes who compete in gymnastics, dancing, swimming, skating, and running are at high risk for the female athlete triad as they strive to appear lean and fit.
We know that more female athletes lack a menstrual period than women in the general population.
Not having a period is associated with decreased estrogen levels. Decreased estrogen levels may also be the cause of low bone mass or osteopenia.
Low-calorie diets are usually the first predictor of eating disorders. Excessive exercise or exercise obsession can be another sign of an eating. Each of these three problems must be medically evaluated and treated to ensure a good outcome for the woman.
How can I prevent Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?
Osteopenia is every woman's concern -- no matter what your age or health status. That's because osteopenia is the first step to full-blown osteoporosis or severe bone loss.Moreover, fractures don't wait until you have osteoporosis. The risk of fractures increases as your bone density decreases. Once you have just one fracture, you are at a greater risk for more fractures. The good news is that osteopenia can be prevented or reversed before fractures occur.
Here are some prevention tips:
- Eat a balanced diet. Include plenty of calcium and vitamin D. You'll find these nutrients in foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, and broccoli.
- Exercise regularly. Choose weight-bearing exercise like walking or running. Also do strength training using weights or resistance bands.
- Avoid smoking.
- If you drink, do so in moderation.
- If you have gone through menopause, talk to your doctor about the newer osteoporosis.
- medications. Depending on your individual health and risk factors, he or she might recommend an osteoporosis medication.