Osteoporosis Home > Definition of Osteopenia

Osteopenia is defined as a medical condition in which decreased bone density occurs because bone is lost faster than it is created. This condition is often the predecessor to osteoporosis. Osteopenia can be diagnosed with a simple procedure known as a bone density test.

What Is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia is defined as a condition of decreased bone density caused by greater bone resorption than bone creation (see the eMedTV article Bone). This is considered a milder form of bone loss that does not meet the criteria of osteoporosis. In other words, there is less bone loss occurring in someone with osteopenia than in someone with osteoporosis. Still, people with osteopenia are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.

Diagnosing Osteopenia With a Bone Mineral Density Test

Bone density tests are useful for diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis. Following a medical exam and assessment of risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you have your bone mass measured. A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the best way to determine your bone health.
The most widely recognized bone mineral density test is called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry or DEXA test. It is painless -- sort of like having an x-ray, but with much less exposure to radiation. It can measure bone density at your hip and spine. Bone density tests can:
  • Detect low bone density before a fracture occurs
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis if you already have one or more fractures
  • Predict your chances of fracturing in the future
  • Determine your rate of bone loss
  • Monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more.
The results of the DEXA test are scored in comparison to the BMD of young, healthy individuals, resulting in a measurement called a T-score. If your T-score is -2.5 or lower, you are considered to have osteoporosis and are, therefore, at high risk for a fracture. T-scores between -1.0 and -2.5 are generally considered to show osteopenia. The risk of fractures is generally lower in people with osteopenia when compared with those with osteoporosis, but if bone loss continues, the risk for fracture increases.
If you are age 65 or older, you should get a bone density test. If you are between ages 60 and 64, weigh less than 154 pounds, and don't take estrogen, you should also get a bone density test. Don't wait until age 65, because you are at a higher risk for fractures.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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