Osteopenia

If you’ve had a bone density scan to check the strength of your bones, you may have been told that you have osteopenia. But what does this mean?

What is osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a name given to a level of bone density - how much bone tissue you have inside your bones.

It means your bone density is lower than the average adult, but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis.

Having lower bone density is just one of the risk factors for breaking a bone.

Why do I have osteopenia?

Losing bone density is a normal part of ageing. This happens at different rates in different people.

Many people have osteopenia in later life as their bones get older.

For some people, lower bone density could be due to:

  • genetics
  • medication taken for a different condition
  • having naturally smaller, less dense bones

What do I do next?

Having low bone density can increase your risk of breaking a bone, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to. It is just one of the risk factors for broken bones.

For many of us, having a lower than average bone density is normal, and most people with osteopenia do not need an osteoporosis medication.

Positive action for your bones

We recommend making positive lifestyle choices, to help your bones stay stronger for longer:

  • Find out about nutrition for bones, and adapt what you eat so you’re getting all the right foods for bones
  • Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D from the sun and food you eat. You may find you can benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement
  • Much like muscle, bones need exercise to stay strong, so lead as active a lifestyle as possible
  • Find out if there are any other lifestyle factors you can change, to protect your bones

Know your risk factors for broken bones

If you think you may have a lower bone density due to medication or other risk factors, and would like to know more, you can familiarise yourself with the known risk factors for osteoporosis and broken bones.

This can help you identify if there is anything you can change or speak to your doctor about.

Why have I been referred for further tests?

Although your bone density scan shows you have less bone density than the average adult, it can’t measure how strong your bone tissue is.

Your doctor suggests further tests if they think you could be at risk of breaking a bone.

To make this decision, the doctor considers your other risk factors and may ask:

  • Have you already broken a bone as a result of a minor impact?
  • Are you taking medication that is known to affect bone strength?
  • Is there a history of osteoporosis and broken bones in your family?

Your doctor may also talk to you about your diet, exercise and general lifestyle.

If you have a significant number of risk factors, you may be referred for a fracture risk assessment.

During the assessment, all of your risk factors are considered, including your bone density. If the assessment shows your risk of breaking a bone is high, your doctor can decide whether an osteoporosis medication is needed.

Why haven't I been referred for further tests?

If you haven't been referred for further tests, it's because your doctor thinks your risk of breaking a bone is low.

Will I develop osteoporosis?

Osteopenia doesn't always lead to osteoporosis. It depends on many factors.

There are lots of positive steps you can take to help keep your bones healthy and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones in later life.