I know that it can be scary to be told you have osteopenia or are well on your way. I talk with women worried about this every day. Unfortunately, with over half of all U.S. adults over 50 estimated to have osteoporosis or osteopenia, concern about bone loss is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Here are 3 things to know if you’ve been told you have osteopenia – and the first is don’t panic!
- You don’t need to panic — you’re not sick. There’s a lot of confusing information out there about “osteopenia” and what it means. From the very start, the term wasn’t meant to indicate disorder, much less a disease needing treatment.
Osteopenia is really just a statement of where you stand, statistically, on a spectrum of bone thicknesses. A person with “osteopenia” has a bone density more than -1 standard deviation but less than -2.5 standard deviations from the bone density of young women (considered the ideal). With this definition, even 16% of healthy young women would be told they have osteopenia or even osteoporosis—when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them.
- You probably don’t need medication. There’s growing, thoughtful medical consensus that bone drugs are largely ineffective and unnecessary for preventing fractures in those with osteopenia (Alonso-Coello et al., 2008), and universal recommendations for preventing osteoporotic fractures focus on lifestyle factors ahead of drugs (Cosman et al., 2014).
- You probably don’t have a significantly greater chance of a bone fracture. Bone density alone does not determine fracture risk. In fact, more than two-thirds of all osteoporotic fractures occur in people who have denser bones than would typically be called “osteoporotic” by bone scans. I suggest you take my simple bone health profile to better understand your potential risk of fracture.
You can learn more about steps to reduce your risks with my recent blog “Osteopenia? 5 steps for stronger bones.”
Alonso-Coello P, et al., Drugs for pre-osteoporosis: prevention or disease mongering? BMJ 2008;336:126. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39435.656250.AD (Published 17 January 2008) Cosman F, de Beur SJ, LeBoff MS, et al. Clinician’s guide to the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int. 2014; 25(10): 2359–2381.
Looker AC, Sarafrazi Isfahani N, Fan B., Shepherd JA. Prevalence and trends in low femur bone density among older U.S. adults: NHANES 2005-2006 compared with NHANES 111. J Bone Miner Res. 2010 Jan 25 (1):64-71.