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Osteopenia is lower than normal bone mineral density, which increases the risk for broken bones. Bones thin as people age, and osteopenia can lead to osteoporosis.

It is not known what causes osteopenia, but there are risk factors. These include the following:

  • Age
  • Small, thin body frame
  • Family history
  • Menopause

Osteopenia: what you should know

  • Osteopenia has no symptoms. Often it is not discovered until you break a bone.
  • Osteopenia can result from these diseases or their treatments:
    • Anorexia
    • Radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
    • Corticosteroids for autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis
  • Premature babies are at risk for osteopenia since vital bone growth happens in utero. Babies born early miss an important time when bone-building calcium and phosphorus are transferred from mother to baby

How can I get help for osteopenia?

If you break bones easily and have risk factors, talk to your primary care doctor. You might be referred to a rheumatologist at the Rush Osteoporosis Center.

A bone density test will check for osteopenia. Rheumatologists at Rush use a DEXA system, a type of low-dose X-ray, to do the following:

  • Check bone strength
  • Diagnose osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • Determine the likelihood of breaking a bone

If premature babies are suspected of having osteopenia, doctors might order one or more of these tests:

Blood tests to check levels of calcium, phosphorus and a protein called alkaline phosphatase

  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays

Care for osteopenia at Rush

Osteopenia is not a disease and has no cure or specific treatment. But if you have osteopenia, your doctor may recommend the following to lower your chances of developing osteoporosis:

  • Lifestyle changes:
    • Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements
    • Exercising, including weight-bearing activities, like walking or hiking
    • Quitting smoking
    • Limiting caffeine and alcohol
    • Taking steps to prevent falls, like installing grab bars near the shower or tub
  • Bone-building medications
  • Follow-up visits : To monitor osteopenia, your bone mass should be re-evaluated every two to four years.
  • Premature babies with osteopenia may be given the following:
    • Calcium and phosphorus supplements, added to breast milk or IV fluids
    • Special formulas designed for premature babies
    • Vitamin D supplements for babies with liver problems

Doctors at Rush evaluate each case individually and will tailor a treatment plan to meet your specific needs.

Why choose Rush for osteopenia care

  • The team at the Rush Osteoporosis Clinic focuses on preventing osteoporosis by helping you make any necessary lifestyle modifications, including diet, exercise and smoking cessation.
  • Rheumatologists at Rush work to prevent osteoporosis in patients with autoimmune disorders, like multiple sclerosis. They pay special attention to those using steroid treatments, as steroids can weaken bones.
  • The Rush Osteoporosis Clinic is involved in numerous clinical trials, giving patients early access to new therapies for a variety of conditions

Departments and programs that treat this condition