Osteopenia is a condition in which bone density is below the normal range.
However, the bone density is not as low as the one associated with osteoporosis, whereby the bones are extra weak and susceptible to fractures. Although osteopenia is not as severe as osteoporosis, it is a warning sign since untreated individuals are more likely to develop osteoporosis with time.
Similar to osteoporosis, patients with osteopenia are more susceptible to fractures. Osteopenia is usually asymptomatic, and the loss of bone density doesn’t always cause bone pains. As of the year 2010, approximately 43 million adults in the United States had osteopenia. The prevention of osteopenia begins during the early stages of life. It is advisable for one to have a healthy meal plan, doing regular body exercises, and avoiding the use of alcohol or smoking.
Causes of Osteopenia
No single cause of osteopenia can be defined. However, there are many modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors associated with the condition. The modifiable risk factors include diet, behavior, and use of certain medications. Non-modifiable risk factors include gender and age-related loss of bone mass.
Fixed Risk Factors
- Age – bone density is optimal at 35 years, after which it declines in both men and women
- Sex- women, especially those who experience early menopause, are at greater risk of osteopenia
- Family history- a positive history of low bone mass in the family increases the risk of osteopenia
- Ethnicity – the risk of developing osteopenia is higher in Europeans and Asians than in other groups
Modifiable risk factors of osteopenia include:
- Malnutrition such as inadequate calcium and vitamin D
- Inadequate calorie intake
- Physical inactivity that is, insufficient weight-bearing activities
- Alcohol consumption
- Coeliac disease is associated with malabsorption of nutrients such as calcium and dietary vitamin D
- Hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone levels in the blood)
- Anorexia nervosa
In addition, the risk of osteopenia is higher in individuals using some medications.
Signs and Symptoms
Osteopenia is not associated with excessive loss of bone density; therefore, it has no apparent symptoms. It is not easy to detect osteopenia unless a person;
- Undergoes a bone density test
- If a person has localized bone pain in an area of a fractured bone. This is referred to as osteopenia pain.
Wherever osteopenia is suspected, a physician performs a thorough history taking and physical examination. If necessary, they can as well use advanced diagnostic procedures. Since osteopenia leads to bone weakness, patients with osteopenia can initially present with fractures or localized pain. Diagnosis of osteopenia needs a high index of suspicion since there are no apparent complaints from patients.
Some of the investigations done include DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry). DEXA test measures the bone density of the backbone, the hip, or the whole body. It uses a phantom beam.
A DEXA bone density provides the measurement of bone density and shows if a patient meets the osteopenia standards. It is mainly recommendable for postmenopausal women and people above 65 years since they are at a high risk of developing low bone density and subsequent osteoporosis. When assessing for osteopenia, bone health is measured in density and mass. Bone mass indicates how much bone you have, while density refers to bone thickness. In osteopenia cases, minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, and others may be low. As one ages, minerals are reabsorbed into the blood, leading to osteopenia and, if not treated, osteoporosis.
There are many natural herbs and supplements for treating osteopenia. The main natural remedies for osteopenia are vitamin D and calcium supplements. Adults usually get 1000-1200 milligrams of calcium and 600-800 international units of vitamin D supplements daily. You can also spend some time in the sun for natural vitamin D. Other nutritional supplements that strengthen bones include copper, silicon, manganese, strontium, zinc, and boron. However, there is limited research on them. Essential herbal remedies include horsetail and red clovers.
There are several medications that can work as well. Some work to prevent osteopenia while others are essential for maintaining bone density. Hormone replacement therapy was once a very popular treatment for low bone density, but it is rarely used due to the risk of clot formation in the lungs and legs
Since these drugs have side effects and risks, reporting any abnormal symptoms while using them is crucial.