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Osteoporosis vs Osteopenia: Know the Difference

You've probably heard the term osteoporosis before, and you may even be somewhat familiar with this bone disease that is treated by local orthopedic doctors in Atlanta. However, another similar bone disease that you may not be familiar with is osteopenia. While these diseases do have some similarities, there are also distinct differences between them. Here's what you need to know about the differences between osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Bone Density

Osteoporosis means “porous bones.” Bones that are porous, or less dense, are more likely to break. A person with osteoporosis may also walk with a stooped back. Osteopenia is considered a midway point to osteoporosis; the bone density is lower than normal but not as severe and treating it may slow the progression bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. Bone mineral density (BMD) measures the level of calcium in the bones. The lower this level is, the more likely a person is to sustain bone fractures. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are both diseases in which the bone density is low. Bone density tests are done to determine which of these diseases you may have. These tests are done by taking an X-ray of the bone in the shin, spine, hip, wrist, or heel. A painless procedure, the X-rays enable measurement of the density of minerals in the bone segment.

Doctor viewing X-ray

Interpreting Bone Density Scores

In healthy adults, peak bone density typically occurs at about age 30 years old. This number thus forms the basis for establishing a T-score range used in assessing the BMD scores of patients who receive bone density tests. Normal bone density will be one more or one less than that normal number. If your score is between -1.0 to -2.5 you may be diagnosed with osteopenia. A score of -2.5 or below warrants an osteoporosis diagnosis. A person diagnosed with osteopenia has a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Causes of Low Bone Density

Some bone loss is normal as people age, but there are reasons why some people experience greater bone loss than normal. Women are at a higher risk, especially after menopause. Lack of exercise and eating a poor diet lacking in calcium and vitamin D are contributors as well. Genetics can also play a role, especially if you have a family history of low bone density or other genetic health conditions like digestive problems or cystic fibrosis. Thyroid problems also contribute to low bone density.

Doctors Pondering

Complications of Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

Serious injuries can occur as a result of osteoporosis. Because persons diagnosed with osteoporosis have lost a lot of bone mass, their bones, more porous, and brittle, can fracture from something as simple as a sneeze or a minor fall. Fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the spine. Known as vertebral compression fractures, fractures in the spine are almost twice as common as other fractures typically linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists. Osteopenia isn't quite as serious as osteoporosis because the bones aren't as porous and measures can be taken to help prevent the onset of osteoporosis.

Prevention and Treatment

There are a few different treatment options that specialists in orthopedics in Atlanta may recommend if you're diagnosed with osteopenia. Your physician may recommend weight-bearing exercises, those that cause you to step down on your feet, such as brisk walking, running, stair climbing, dancing or step aerobics. Exercises using weights may also be recommended. Weight training strengthens both the muscles and the bones to help prevent bone density loss. In addition to exercise, adding more calcium and vitamin D to the diet may be recommended. Although supplements may be prescribed,  it's particularly beneficial  to eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D like spinach, broccoli, and leafy greens, as well as nonfat and low-fat cheese and yogurt. Sardines and pink salmon can also boost your calcium levels. In some cases, the doctor may recommend medication, but the condition can often be treated without it.

Osteoporosis can't be reversed; however, it can be managed using the same treatments recommended for osteopenia. In addition to diet and exercise, there are medications the doctor may recommend to help prevent further bone loss. Patients with advanced osteoporosis may have drugs prescribed that might actually promote new bone growth. Call OrthoAtlanta today to learn more about your options for treating osteopenia and osteoporosis.

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