Osteopenia is a condition characterized by decreased bone density that results when bone is lost faster than it is created. It is not the same thing as osteoporosis, but people who have this condition are at risk of developing osteoporosis. As with osteoporosis, it can be diagnosed with a simple procedure known as a bone density test.
Osteopenia is defined as a condition of decreased bone density caused by a greater bone resorption than bone creation (see the eMedTV article Bone). Osteopenia is considered a milder form of bone loss that does not meet the criteria of osteoporosis. In other words, less bone loss occurs with osteopenia than with osteoporosis. However, people with osteopenia are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.
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 -- a lot 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 the ages of 60 and 64, weigh less than 154 pounds, and don't take estrogen, it is also a good idea to get a bone density test. Don't wait until age 65. You have a higher chance for fractures.