Let’s Talk About Bones

Multiple bones form the body’s skeletal system, responsible for support, movement, and protecting the body’s delicate organs. Bone density or bone mass refers to the amount of minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, in the bones. For bones to stay strong and support the body, optimal density is required. Through a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, medical professionals can see if a person has low bone density. The DEXA scan results will determine if the issue is osteopenia or osteoporosis. Understanding the difference helps people with bone density concerns fight the condition effectively.


Osteopenia vs osteoporosis

Both osteopenia and osteoporosis are conditions related to bone density. However, the main difference lies in the severity of bone loss. Osteopenia is considered a milder form of bone loss and is the precursor of osteoporosis. The latter, osteoporosis, is a more advanced and serious condition characterized by significant bone loss and fragility. Moreover, osteoporosis is associated with an increased risk of fractures and other complications that can potentially be life-threatening. On the DEXA scan, a T score of -1.0 is generally considered normal bone density. However, a T score between -1.0 and -2.5 indicates low bone density or osteopenia, while a T score lower than -2.5 indicates osteoporosis. While both men and women can develop osteopenia and osteoporosis, women are 4 times more likely to develop osteoporosis.

What causes these conditions?

Bone loss is a natural part of the aging process. A healthy person can build more bone density up until age 30. Past this age, the balance between bone formation and bone resorption begins to shift, resulting in a gradual loss of bone density. Furthermore, other factors, such as poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and hormonal imbalances, can also increase the risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis. Certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and thyroid disorders, as well as long-term use of certain medications such as corticosteroids, are also risk factors. Genetics may also play a role. In addition to these factors, low body weight, smoking, excessive alcohol use, and a history of fractures or falls can also contribute to the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Fighting low bone density

If left untreated, the risk for fractures increases, even from the slightest of falls. Bones become harder to heal, which can impact longevity and quality of life. Despite these concerns, several strategies can help prevent or manage low bone density. First, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key. This includes consuming a balanced diet rich in vitamin D and calcium. Avoiding habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption also helps. Regular weight-bearing exercises, such as resistance band work weightlifting, can also help improve bone density. These activities break down bone, encouraging faster turnover. Individuals at risk of bone loss may also consider taking calcium and vitamin D supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Can medication or surgery help?

Some individuals may have severe bone loss and need additional bone support. Medications such as bisphosphonates, hormone therapy, and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) may be prescribed to individuals with osteopenia or osteoporosis. Such prescriptions help increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. Given the increasing prevalence of osteopenia and osteoporosis, prioritizing bone health and taking proactive measures to prevent or manage these conditions is important. While there are no preventative surgeries, patients may need surgery for osteoporosis-related fractures of the spine, wrist, or hips.

Get serious about bone density

Most adults go years without a bone density check. Many people have osteopenia or osteoporosis and only find out after a fall or injury. Doctors recommend a DEXA scan at age 65 or earlier if there is a family history of osteoporosis. Any individual concerned about bone health should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to undergo a bone density assessment. By accurately identifying bone density levels, healthcare providers can provide personalized recommendations for prevention or management, ensuring stronger, healthier bones for years.