mass and bone mineral density both decrease as people age. Osteopenia is a
condition where people’s bone density is lower than is usual for their age.
Osteoporosis is a more severe case of bone loss that weakens the bones and
makes them more likely to fracture.
Bone mass and bone
mineral density measure the amount of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus
present in a set amount of bone. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are conditions
that lead to a loss of bone mass and density, which can increase the risk of
What are they?
Osteopenia is a
condition where people have a lower bone mass or bone mineral density than is
usual for a person’s age. However, the bone mineral density isnot
low enoughTrusted Source for healthcare professionals to diagnose osteoporosis.
the other hand, is a bone disease where the bones become weak and are more
likely to fracture. Osteoporosis happens when the body loses bone mass or
structure resembles a honeycomb. When bone becomes less dense, the holes in the
structure become larger, weakening the bone and potentially making it more
prone to breaking.
How do they differ?
Osteopenia is less
severe than osteoporosis.
Osteopenia is a
loss of bone mass or bone mineral density. It is the stage before osteoporosis,
and without treatment, it can progress to osteoporosis.
happens when bone mineral density and bone mass decrease even further or when
there are structural changes to bone tissue. Osteoporosis weakens the bones and
increases the risk of fractures.
osteoporosis do not usually cause any symptoms. Sometimes, a fracture is the
first sign of either condition.
Height loss is a common
symptom of osteopenia. Once a person reaches peak adult height, it is normal
for them to lose height as they age. However, losing more height than normal
may be a sign of an underlying issue with bone health.
osteopenia can be at risk of fractures. If a person over the age of 50 years
falls from a low height, such as standing height, and breaks a bone, it may
indicate a bone issue. They will need to undergo a bone density test to check
for osteopenia or osteoporosis.
cause the bones to become very fragile, and people may experience fractures
from very slight knocks or minor activity, such as:
falling from standing height
cause vertebrae in the spine to collapse. Symptoms of vertebral collapse
severe back pain
changes in posture, such as stooping or
What are the causes and risk factors?
There are a number
of causes of and risk factors for osteopenia and osteoporosis.
According to a2021
article Trusted Source, there are two main reasons people may develop
osteopenia — not reaching their peak bone mass, which usually occurs in their
20s, and losing bone mass after reaching their peak bone mass.
A few factors can
prevent people from reaching peak bone mass, including genetics. Heritable
factors control up to 80% of a person’s ability to achieve and maintain bone
certain conditions may prevent the bones from absorbing enough calcium, thus
preventing people from reaching peak bone mass. These conditions include:
inflammatory bowel disease
having a body mass index of under 18.5
Other risk factors
insufficient intake of vitamin D and
genetic factors, such as a
predisposition to osteoporosis
excessive alcohol consumption
low levels of physical activity
have reached their peak bone mass may lose bone mass as they age or if they
lose estrogen through menopause.
osteopenia can lead to osteoporosis.
Certain factors may
increase the risk of osteoporosis, such as:
typically have a lower peak bone mass and smaller bones than males.
However, males over the age of 70 years are also at risk of developing the
Age: Bone loss
occurs more quickly as a person ages.
Body size: Thin-boned males and females are at higher risk of developing osteopenia,
as there is physically less bone in their bodies.
Family history: If a
person’s parents have osteoporosis, the risk of developing it is higher.
Ethnicity and race: White females, Asian females, and white males are at higher risk of
osteoporosis than other populations.
Hormonal changes: These include hormonal changes during menopause, absence of periods, and
low testosterone levels in males.
Diet: A diet low in
calcium, vitamin D, and protein can increase an individual’s risk of
Long-term use of medications: These include anti-epileptic drugs, cancer medication, proton pump
inhibitors, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Among other risk
low levels of physical activity and long
periods of inactivity
excessive alcohol consumption
conditions can increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, such as:
HIV and AIDS
some types of cancer
Measuring bone mineral density
Doctors use bone
mineral density tests to check for osteopenia or osteoporosis. They may use a dual-energy
X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan to check for bone mineral density throughout
the body and in areas that may be more likely to fracture.
The DEXA scan is a
quick, noninvasive test that shows calcium levels in the bone. During the test,
a doctor will pass a scanner over the body to X-ray the bones.
They will then
compare the DEXA scan results against the average bone mineral density levels
in healthy bones of a young adult, known as a T-score, and against the average
bone density of other people of the same age, sex, and race, called the
Bone density below
a certain level may indicate osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The goal of
treatment for osteopenia is to help prevent the condition from progressing to
osteoporosis and to prevent fractures.
following a diet rich in calcium
getting enough vitamin D, which people
may need to supplement
doing regular weight-bearing exercise
taking medications to prevent osteoporosis
and increase bone density
It is not always
possible to completely prevent osteopenia, as sometimes, it is due to genetic
can make dietary and lifestyle changes to help protect against osteopenia and
prevent Trusted Source osteopenia from developing into osteoporosis. These
performing regular exercise
including enough calcium in the diet
limiting alcohol consumption, if
stopping smoking, if applicable
For those going
through perimenopause, monitoring menstruation is important, as regular periods
can indicate that the body is making enough estrogen, which is important for
taking hormone therapy within 10 years of a person’s final menstruation can
help prevent osteoporosis.
have osteopenia, it is important they undergo regular tests to help monitor the
condition and prevent it from progressing to osteoporosis.
osteoporosis are conditions that lead to a loss of bone mass and density, which
can increase the risk of bones breaking.
Osteopenia is the
initial stage of bone loss, which can progress to osteoporosis, a more severe
condition, without treatment.
weight-bearing exercise, a balanced diet rich in calcium, adequate vitamin D
intake, and bone strengthening medications can help treat both osteopenia and
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