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Osteopenia - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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Osteopenia - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

4 min read


Osteopenia is a condition with weaker bones. It is commonly considered as the precursor of osteoporosis.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Patil Mahaveer Jingonda

Published At February 6, 2020
Reviewed AtDecember 18, 2023

What Is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia is not a disease, but it is when the bone density is lower than normal. The bone density starts to reduce after about 35 years of age. The amount of bone minerals present in the bone is measured with the help of bone mineral density (BMD). Osteopenia patients have lower BMD than normal. Although it is not considered a disease, it increases the chances of the individual developing osteoporosis, which can result in fractures, loss of height, stooped posture, and severe pain.

There are various precautionary measures that an individual can take to prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis. Regular exercise and healthy food choices help keep the bones strong. Osteopenia is frequently confused with other bone disorders, such as:

  • Osteomalacia - Vitamin D and phosphate deficiency leads to improper mineralization of newly formed bones.

  • Osteomyelitis - It is a type of bone infection.

  • Osteoarthritis - It causes inflammation of the joints due to the destruction of cartilage present in the joint.

  • Osteoporosis - It is when osteopenia becomes worse and the body loses too much bone minerals making them weak and brittle.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors for Osteopenia?

Various factors result in loss of bone density. The following are some of the risk factors:

  • Aging - As an individual age increases, old bones break down faster than the formation of new bones. As a result, bone density is lost. Most people older than 50 years have osteopenia.

  • Menopause - Menopausal women lose bone density more quickly as their estrogen levels are low. Women who had menopause before 45 years of age are more susceptible.

  • Family History - An individual with a family history of osteopenia is more likely to have the condition.

  • Medications: An individual taking medicines like Phenytoin or Prednisone is at high risk of developing the condition.

  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as anorexia and bulimia, Cushing syndrome, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease can increase the risk of osteopenia.

  • Getting oophorectomy (ovaries removal) before menopause.

  • Not exercising regularly.

  • Consuming a diet that lacks calcium and vitamin D.

  • Smoking.

  • Excessive alcohol consumption.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteopenia?

This condition does not cause pain until it results in a broken bone (bone fracture). As osteopenia does not result in pain, it often goes undiagnosed. In rare cases, if osteopenia results in a hip fracture or fracture of a bone in the spine (vertebral fracture), it becomes very painful. The common signs and symptoms of osteopenia are as follows:

  • Bone fractures.

  • Loss of height.

  • Back pain.

  • Poor posture.

  • Receding gums.

  • Tooth loss.

How Is Osteopenia Diagnosed?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, it is best to get BMD regularly if an individual falls under the following categories:

  • Older women (age 65 or more).

  • Postmenopausal women (younger than 65 years).

  • Women who attained menopause before 45 years of age.

  • Postmenopausal women, who have broken their bones while performing normal day-to-day activities.

Although this condition commonly affects women, men above 50 years should also get their BMD tested. The diagnostic methods are as follows:

  • DEXA Test - The most common way to measure BMD is by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, otherwise called DEXA or DXA test. This test uses X-rays and is painless, and usually measures the bone density in the spine, hip, shin, wrist, or heel. The density value is then compared to the density of a 30-year-old individual of the same race and sex. The doctor will use the DEXA result to diagnose the patient.

  • Ultrasound: It is used to measure bone density.

  • Computed Tomography: It provides a three-dimensional image of the bone. It is less advisable because of high radiation exposure.

How Is Osteopenia Treated?

The following treatment options can strengthen the bones, slow the progression of osteopenia, and prevent osteoporosis:

  1. Lifestyle Modification:

  • Exercise makes the muscles and bones stronger. An individual can walk, climb stairs, dance, and lift weights regularly.

  • Consume a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products, green vegetables, sardines, salmon, and tofu.

  • Spend a few minutes outdoors under the sun, as it helps the body with vitamin D.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Do not consume alcohol in excess, as it alters the balance of calcium in the body.

  • Consume less salt.

  • Avoid overindulging on caffeinated drinks.

2. Osteopenia Medications: The doctor will prescribe osteopenia medications if an individual has already broken a bone, to reduce the chances of more fractures and osteoporosis. The following medicines can be prescribed:

  • Bisphosphonates (Alendronic acid, Ibandronic acid, Risedronic acid) - It slows down the process of bone breakdown. It prevents further bone loss and is commonly used to prevent osteoporosis in menopausal women.

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) - HRT was previously used to prevent bone loss, but nowadays, doctors use it rarely as it results in severe side effects. Some of the side effects include blood clots in the legs and lungs and stroke.

  • Teriparatide - It is a type of hormone that is produced by parathyroid glands. It helps the body in forming new bones, and it is injected daily under the skin.

  • Raloxifene - This drug is prescribed for postmenopausal women and patients taking glucocorticoids, as it prevents and treats osteoporosis. It also reduces the risk of getting breast cancer.

Make sure an individual should consult a treating doctor before taking any of these pills, as they all have some possible health risks and side effects. So learn about the possible side effects and then start taking them.

3. Natural Therapy: To help build stronger bones and prevent fractures, there are a lot of natural therapies available. The following are some options:

  • Calcium - The daily calcium requirement for adults is between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams.

  • Vitamin D Supplements - The daily vitamin D requirement for adults is 600 to 800 international units (IU). Spend a few minutes outdoors under the sun every day.

  • Other Supplements - If an individual feels that their diet lacks calcium and they do not spend enough time outdoors, then they can include nutritional supplements, such as Boron, Copper, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Folic acid, Vitamin B6 and B12, Manganese, Zinc, Silicon, and Strontium.


In conclusion, osteopenia is a condition in which the bone density is low. The condition does not show noticeable symptoms. However, the condition increases the risk of fractures, such as hip and wrist. Early diagnosis of the condition may help in assessing bone health. People should adopt lifestyle modifications and take osteopenia medications and it will slow the progression of the condition. In case of any concern, people should take personalized advice and contact with the healthcare professionals online.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long Can a Person Live With Osteopenia?

Osteopenia can be fatal if the treatment is not provided sooner. Osteopenia itself is not that serious and can be treated. But without any treatment, it can lead to osteoporosis which can be fatal. Therefore the life expectancy in women of 75 years is 15 years and the same in men below the age of 60.


What Food Products Can Reduce Bone Density?

Some of the food products that can impact bone density include -
- Hydrogenated oil.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Soft drinks.
- Food rich in vitamin A.
- Consuming excessive amounts of salt.


How Quickly Can Osteopenia Progress?

Osteopenia is a progressive disease that affects bone density. Bones are living tissues that get degraded or resorbed with age. Therefore with other aggravating factors, such as the lifestyle of the patient, the amount of resorption increases, which can lead to osteopenia. This is usually seen in people after 50 years of age.


Can Osteopenia Makes a Person Feel Tired?

Osteopenia usually affects the bones of the person. However, it can also lead to other side effects, such as digestive problems and bone and joint pain. These symptoms can further make a person feel tired.


What Are the Best Ways to Increase Bone Density?

The primary objective of maintaining bone health is to make some changes in the lifestyle, which includes things like
- Monitoring the diet. Including food rich in vitamin D and calcium in the diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
- Physical activities such as walking, running, and other weight-bearing activities can help strengthen bones.


Does Walking Help With Osteopenia?

Bone loss can be prevented with regular exercise such as walking. Walking helps in keeping the bones strong and reduces the risk of bone fractures in the future.


Does Walking Help With Osteopenia?

Bone loss can be prevented with regular exercise such as walking. Walking helps in keeping the bones strong and reduces the risk of bone fractures in the future.


Does Sunlight Helps With Increasing Bone Density?

Sunlight is a richer source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is considered essential for bone strength. Without vitamin D body cannot absorb calcium which helps in strengthening the bones of the body.


How to Increase Bone Density Naturally?

Some of the things that can be done to increase bone density are -
- Doing weight lifting and strength training.
- Eating more vegetables.
- Eating food rich in calcium, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and some leafy greens, such as kale and beans.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Eating food rich in vitamins D and K.
- Taking more protein in the diet.
- Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, nuts, and seeds.
- Avoid excessive drinking.


What Level of Bone Density Requires Treatment?

Women are more susceptible to diminished bone density in their bodies than males. Therefore, during a bone density test, a T-score of -2.5 or lower (-3.3 or -3.8) should go for treatment to avoid any fractures.


What Type of Cereal Is Considered Suitable for Osteoporosis?

Fortified cereals are considered good in patients with bone problems. These cereals contain essential minerals and vitamins that help the brain function, strengthen bones, and increase immunity. In addition, cereals like raisin, bran, and bran flakes provide enough calcium in one serving to help with bone strengthening.


What Is the Reason Behind the Body Not Absorbing Calcium?

Vitamin D deficiency is the main reason behind impaired calcium absorption in the body. Without vitamin D, calcium does not get absorbed, leading to hypocalcemia (low calcium level), malabsorption, and malnutrition.
Dr. Patil Mahaveer Jingonda
Dr. Patil Mahaveer Jingonda

Orthopedician and Traumatology


bone weaknessagingmenopausebone density testosteopenia
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