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Low Bone Mass Versus Osteoporosis

If you have low bone mass that is not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis, this is sometimes referred to as osteopenia. Low bone mass can be caused by many factors such as:

  • Heredity
  • The development of less-than-optimal peak bone mass in your youth
  • A medical condition or medication to treat such a condition that negatively affects bone
  • Abnormally accelerated bone loss.

Although not everyone who has low bone mass will develop osteoporosis, everyone with low bone mass is at higher risk for the disease and the resulting fractures.

As a person with low bone mass, you can take steps to help slow down your bone loss and prevent osteoporosis in your future. Your doctor will want you to develop—or keep—healthy habits such as eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D and doing weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, or dancing. In some cases, your doctor may recommend medication to prevent osteoporosis.

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, these healthy habits will help, but your doctor will probably also recommend that you take medication. Several effective medications are available to slow—or even reverse—bone loss. If you do take medication to treat osteoporosis, your doctor can advise you concerning the need for future BMD tests to check your progress.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women age 65 and older be screened routinely for osteoporosis. The task force also recommends that routine screening begin at age 60 for women who are at increased risk for osteoporotic fractures.

In addition, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health in 2000 recommended that bone density testing be considered in people taking glucocorticoid medications for 2 months or more and in those with conditions that place them at high risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture.

However, the panel did not find enough scientific evidence upon which to base universal recommendations about when all women and men should obtain a BMD test. Instead, an individualized approach is recommended.