Osteopenia

Osteopenia refers to bone mineral density (BMD) that is lower than normal peak BMD but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are.

Bones naturally become thinner as people grow older because, beginning at about 30 years of age, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone is made. As this occurs, the bones lose minerals, heaviness (mass), and structure, making them weaker and increasing their risk of breaking. Both women and men are more apt to have osteopenia if they fail to reach their peak bone mineral density by age 30. Women are more likely to develop osteopenia than men. This is because women have a lower peak BMD and because the loss of bone mass speeds up as hormonal changes take place at the time of menopause.

Prevention and treatment of osteopenia include regular exercise, a nutritious diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol.

Last Updated: November 21, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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