Bone Health

Knowing Risk Factors for Bone Thinning, Assessing Bone Status: Prevention & Treatment

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a thinning of bone tissue below its peak density.  Bone mineral density (BMD) is a measure of the amount of mineral in bones.  If your BMD drops below normal peak density, you are considered to have osteopenia, a condition that normally has no symptoms but, depending on its degree, puts you at risk for loss of further bone mass and for eventually developing osteoporosis.  Most people reach peak bone mass at around age 30 and then begin losing bone mass thereafter.  Osteopenia can also be due to natural bone structure, metabolic disorders, or treatment with chemotherapy or steroids.

You need your bones for the length of the journey; but, later in adulthood, and especially after menopause and in your senior years, thinning of bone structure can accelerate. This can cause weakening and fracture that can pose a serious risk to life, health, and quality of living.  Fractures of the hip or spine can be painful, and debilitating, and pose a serious overall health risk, especially in older patients.  Combating osteoporosis also helps prevent breaks in wrists, ankles, and other high-fracture areas.

Bone density depends on complicated set of factors, including age, hormones, gender, physical activity, race, and inherited disposition to bone structure.  Our staff can help you determine if you have, or are at risk for, bone thinning. These team members have many years of experience in evaluating osteopenia and osteoporosis.  By conducting a physical examination and taking a medical history, they can advise on whether further testing might be necessary.

Osteoporosis is sometimes referred to as a “silent epidemic,” in that it typically produces no outward signs or symptoms, and yet bone thinning is present to at least some extent in almost everyone who is middle aged and especially in women in their later years.  It is a natural part of aging; however, for some women, it constitutes a serious health risk.  Bone scanning (bone densitometry) uses a special type of x-ray technology to image bones and determine if they have become significantly porous.

Prevention is one of the most important aspects of combating osteoporosis.  Our staff can recommend a regimen of nutrition and physical activity to maintain bone density.  You can slow bone thinning by getting adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D and by exercising regularly, among other steps.

Women age 65 or older should be screened for osteoporosis, and women age 60 to 64 should be screened if they have any risk factors other than menopause.

Medications called bisphosphonates are also available for treating osteoporosis.  These drugs can increase bone density and thus decrease your risk of fractures.  However, these relatively new drugs are not for everyone.  Only your physician can help you decide if they are right for you.  Some women elect to take these medications for osteoporosis instead of hormone replacement therapy, which is another treatment option that our staff can discuss with you.

Because they can lead to complications, fractures can be life-threatening events, especially in older patients. 
All women should have a program to decrease risk.