Osteopenia: Risk Factors, Measurement, Causes, and Treatment

Written by: Austin Gerwig, OMS-II

Osteopenia is a condition characterized by low bone mineral density (BMD), which is not as severe as osteoporosis but can be a precursor to it. It occurs when the body loses more bone mass than it can replace, leading to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures. 

Osteopenia often goes unnoticed, as it doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms until a fracture occurs. 

In this article, we will delve into the risk factors of osteopenia, its measurement, common causes, and available treatments.

At OrthoNeuro, we are helping many patients manage osteopenia. If you are interested in learning more, book an appointment with one of our orthopedic surgeons. We have many locations throughout Columbus, Ohio.

A specialist at OrthoNeuro explaining the treatment for osteopenia to a patient.

Risk Factors of Osteopenia

Below are some of the most common risk factors for developing osteopenia. They include the following:

  1. Age: As we age, our bones naturally lose density, making older adults more susceptible to osteopenia.
  2. Gender: Women are at a higher risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis, especially after menopause, due to a decrease in estrogen levels, which play a vital role in maintaining bone density.
  3. Family History: A family history of osteoporosis or osteopenia can increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
  4. Lifestyle Choices: Sedentary lifestyles, lack of weight-bearing exercises, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking can all contribute to bone loss and increase the risk of osteopenia.
  5. Low Body Weight: Individuals with a low body mass index (BMI) or those who have experienced significant weight loss may have lower bone density.
  6. Dietary Factors: Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, essential nutrients for bone health, can negatively impact bone density.

Measurement of Bone Density

Bone mineral density is measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA). This non-invasive procedure helps determine bone density and assess the risk of fractures. 

The results are reported as a T-score, which compares an individual’s bone density to that of a young adult of the same gender with peak bone mass. A T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia, while a T-score below -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.

Common Causes of Osteopenia

Below, you will find some of the most common causes of osteopenia. They include the following:

  • Hormonal Changes: As mentioned earlier, reduced estrogen levels in women during menopause can lead to decreased bone density.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D Deficiency: Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can impair the body’s ability to build and maintain strong bones.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, or resistance training, can lead to bone loss.
  • Medications: Some medications, like glucocorticoids (steroids) used to treat various conditions, can negatively affect bone density.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, can contribute to bone loss.
  • Genetics: A family history of osteopenia or osteoporosis may increase the risk of developing the condition.

Treatment of Osteopenia

The primary goal of treating osteopenia is to prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Several strategies can be employed:

  1. Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in weight-bearing exercises and strength training can help stimulate bone formation and improve bone density. Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake can also be beneficial for bone health.
  2. Nutritional Supplements: Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often prescribed to ensure adequate intake and support bone health.
  3. Medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications such as bisphosphonates or hormone therapy (in postmenopausal women) to slow bone loss and reduce fracture risk.
  4. Fall Prevention: Preventing falls is crucial to reducing the risk of fractures, especially in older adults. Simple measures such as removing hazards at home, using assistive devices, and regular vision check-ups can help prevent falls.
  5. Regular Monitoring: Individuals diagnosed with osteopenia should have regular follow-up appointments and bone density tests to assess treatment effectiveness and bone health progression.

Get Help for Osteopenia Today

Osteopenia is a condition that demands attention as it can progress to osteoporosis, leading to increased fracture risk. Understanding the risk factors, measuring bone density through DXA, and identifying the causes are essential in managing and preventing the condition. 

Lifestyle modifications, nutritional supplements, medications, fall prevention strategies, and regular monitoring are vital components of the comprehensive approach to managing osteopenia and maintaining strong and healthy bones throughout life. 

If you suspect you may be at risk of osteopenia, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional. Book an appointment today at OrthoNeuro for a proper evaluation and personalized treatment. 

Early intervention and proactive management can go a long way in preserving bone health and overall well-being. We are helping patients throughout Columbus, Ohio. Contact us today!


Medically Reviewed by Nick Cheney, DO

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