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Senior Patient Having Consultation With Doctor In Office

Osteopenia diagnosis – now what?

Whilst most people are familiar with the condition osteoporosis, many have not heard of osteopenia and feel confused when receiving the diagnosis.

A diagnosis of osteopenia can be very disconcerting, often catching patients off guard as there are rarely any symptoms. There are many proactive changes that can be incorporated into daily living to help manage the condition and help promote strong, healthy bones, whilst reducing the risk of osteopenia progressing to osteoporosis.

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a condition where the bone mineral density is lower than the normal level for the age of the individual, meaning that the bones are weaker compared to the average.

Bones are at their strongest in our 30s and gradually weaken as we age, with osteopenia usually occurring after the age of 50. However this can be sooner or later, dependent on the bone strength in younger years.

What causes osteopenia?

Osteopenia occurs when the body is losing more bone than it is creating. Risk factors for osteopenia include:

Gender –women naturally have lower mass, they live longer and they tend to get less calcium than men. Hormone changes in menopause also increase the risk.

Testosterone – Low testosterone levels in men can raise the chances of osteopenia

Genetics – if there is a family history of osteopenia this can be inherited

Eating disorders – these can starve the body of vital nutrients which keep bones strong

Medical conditions – celiac disease, overactive thyroid and chemotherapy treatment can reduce bone mass

Medications – certain medications such as steroids and anti-seizure drugs may increase the risk

Lifestyle factors such as deficiency of vitamin D, diet, exercise, smoking and heavy drinking can all increase the risk of developing osteopenia

What are the symptoms of osteopenia?

Unfortunately, there are rarely any symptoms of osteopenia, making it hard to diagnose without a bone mineral density test.

How is osteopenia different from osteoporosis?

Osteopenia is the condition that precedes osteoporosis and is a big risk factor for osteoporosis. It is caused by the thinning of bone mass, but not considered to be severe whereas osteoporosis is a fragile bone disease with severe loss of bone mass.

Will my osteopenia lead to osteoporosis?

Whilst osteopenia is the stage that precedes osteoporosis and increases the chances of developing it, it doesn’t always guarantee that it will lead to it. There are many proactive changes that can be implemented to reduce the risk and help promote strong, healthy bones.

I have an osteopenia diagnosis – now what?

When faced with an osteopenia diagnosis, it’s important to take proactive steps to establish a healthy lifestyle to help prevent the onset of osteoporosis, addressing important modifiable risk factors such as diet, nutrition, exercise and recreation which are outlined below:

Diet:  Getting adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D in the diet is imperative at all stages of life to help promote strong bones. Your diet should be rich in foods such as low-fat dairy products (yoghurt, milk and cheese), leafy green vegetables, eggs, beans and pulses and oily fish such as salmon.

If you are a heavy drinker, reducing alcohol consumption is also an important step to take.

Sunshine: our bodies convert sunlight to vitamin D so spending time outdoors in the sunshine for 10-15 minutes a couple of times a week will be hugely beneficial. You can find out more about Vitamin D here.

Exercise: Bone is a living tissue just like muscle and exercise helps keep bones strong. Introduce weight bearing exercise such as dancing, lifting weights or even walking to help slow osteopenia. It’s important to consult with your doctor before making any sudden or drastic changes to your exercise regime and is best to introduce it slowly.

Supplementation: Consider taking a nutritional supplement to slow osteopenia. bonebalance comprises unique and bioactive collagen peptides to promote bone health. It works by stimulating bone building cells, reducing cells that break down bone, improving collagen metabolism and improving the bone matrix and bone mineral density.

Give up smoking- For decades, smoking has demonstrated a direct link with decreased bone density. Smoking also causes other serious diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease. There is lots of support, advice and programmes readily available to help you kick the habit.

It’s important to remember that whilst osteopenia is a risk factor for osteoporosis, it is not a certainty you will develop the more serious disease.  It is highly recommended to take preventative action and consider diet, exercise and lifestyle changes to help promote strong healthy bones.