We’ve all heard of osteoporosis, but what about its cousin, osteopenia? Theresa Hansen, APRN, Avera family medicine provider, talks about the similarities and differences between the two bone-weakening disorders.
Are the following statements true or false?
“Osteopenia” and “osteoporosis” are really just interchangeable medical terms.
False. “Osteopenia is the precursor to osteoporosis, meaning you have bone loss but it isn’t significant enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is asymptomatic, and it is often when you break a bone that you realize just how weak your bones have become.”
Men rarely experience bone loss, which is why osteopenia is considered a “women’s disease.”
False. “Men naturally have greater bone density than women, making bone loss in their later years less obvious. But men do have a gradual testosterone drop-off at age 30, which weakens bones — similar to a woman’s estrogen drop-off during menopause.”
Poor diet, smoking and excessive drinking all contribute to bone loss.
True. “You can help prevent the onset of osteopenia, or lessen bone loss, with good habits. Eat foods with calcium, such as milk, yogurt and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin D is another important nutrient for your bones, which can also be found in milk. Or, you can get calcium and vitamin D from a supplement.
Stop smoking. Studies show a direct link between tobacco use and decreased bone density. Also, limit your alcohol intake to one to two drinks per day.”
The screening that determines whether you have osteopenia is called a DEXA scan.
True. “Also known as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, DEXA scan is today’s standard testing procedure to determine the health of your bones. DEXA scans give you a T-score. If yours is between -1.0 and -2.5, you have osteopenia. Anything lower than a -2.5 represents osteoporosis. Typically, women age 65 are recommended for this special type of X-ray, but talk to your physician about an alternative screening schedule if there are risk factors.”
Swimming is an excellent exercise to help strengthen bones.
False. “For stronger bones, focus on weight-bearing exercises, or exercises that work against gravity. These include walking, weight training, hiking, jogging, stairs, tennis and dancing. Aim for 30 minutes most days during the week,” Hansen said.
Bone-density testing is important, so ask your provider about scheduling this exam. If you need a provider, you can search online for family medicine, family medicine/OB or internal medicine physicians.