Is There a Difference Between Osteoporosis and Osteopenia?

Osteopenia and osteoporosis are surprisingly similar maladies. In osteoporosis, the bone mass decreases and makes them less dense. Because they're less dense, they're more subject to fractures caused by events that wouldn't normally cause fractures. A fall that a person would normally get up from with no trouble can break a hip. Even bending to make up a bed can cause a fracture in the spine. The most diabolical thing about osteoporosis is that its early symptoms are silent, which means they cause no pain or discomfort. When the disease does start causing symptoms, it's fairly far advanced.

The good news about osteoporosis is that it can be prevented, and if it can't be prevented, it can be delayed. The disease is especially prevalent among postmenopausal women. If the woman is at risk for osteoporosis, her doctor can recommend estrogen replacement therapy. The woman can also greatly increase her intake of calcium. Many American women get only about 500 mg of calcium every day when they should be getting twice to three times that much. Calcium can be had through dairy products and leafy green vegetables and fish. A woman who's at risk for osteoporosis should also make sure she gets enough Vitamin D. Weight-bearing exercise is also an excellent way to strengthen the bones.


A patient who's at risk for osteoporosis also shouldn't smoke or drink an excessive amount of alcohol.

Most patients are diagnosed with osteoporosis when they're in middle age or early old age. Pain caused from fractures can cause immediate and excruciating pain, but crush fractures in the spine might not. The person might only be able to tell that there might have been a crush fracture because the patient has actually become shorter than they were or they have a curvature in their spine that wasn't there before. It's not unusual for osteoporosis to be found through an X-ray taken for another problem.

People who are already afflicted with osteoporosis can guard against falls by installing carpeting or sturdy mats over slippery floors and hand rails in shower stalls and above bathtubs. Entrances and rooms in a home should also be on the same level without door saddles or thresholds.

Osteopenia is simply a term that lets the patient know that her bone mass density or BMD is low. The term was coined by the World Health Organization. A patient takes a bone density test or DXA scan and receives a T score. If the patient's score falls between -1 and - 2.5, he or she has osteopenia. The score can help the patient and the doctor devise ways to treat the patient's low BMD so that it doesn't progress to the more dangerous osteoporosis.