Osteopenia is a condition that causes thinning of the bones due to loss of bone mineral density. It is not as severe as in osteoporosis but can sometimes develop into this advanced disease. Osteopenia is most common in people over 50 years old and is more likely to affect women than men. A variety of symptoms can indicate the development of bone density issues.
In some cases, osteopenia has no obvious symptoms, making it difficult to detect and treat. The first indication of a problem may be a fracture, which can result from a relatively minor traumatic event. Anyone who knows they are at risk of developing osteopenia should do their best to avoid injury.
Unexpected fractures following relatively low-impact injuries can be an early sign of osteopenia. Although DEXA scans, used to diagnose the condition, can accurately assess bone density, the difficulty in identifying osteopenia means doctors tend not to offer this investigation. As such, many people do not realize they are at risk until they experience a fracture.
As bone density decreases, the thinning bones become less resilient, and the threshold for the force needed to cause fractures declines. Since osteopenia and osteoporosis are more common in older adults, this demographic is more likely to sustain serious injuries from tripping and falls. In most cases, doctors will check for a bone density disease if an older person is hospitalized with a broken bone.
Typically, someone with osteopenia does not feel pain until their condition develops into osteoporosis. Soreness in the back, legs, or arms could signify worsening bone mass loss. This pain may be sudden or gradual, severe or mild, stabbing, or achy. Such sensations may also stem from fractures or deformities. Whatever the cause, it is important to seek medical attention if the pain does not subside.
Fingernails are one of the earliest signs of many health issues, including osteopenia. People with osteopenia may notice that their nails are more brittle than usual, feel dry or thin, or crack and chip more easily than before. This cosmetic problem can be a warning sign of nutrient deficiencies, and many of the same nutrients are needed for nail health as for bone health.
Periodontal disease or inflammation of the gums may develop due to chronic infection. Sore teeth or gums and bleeding or pain when brushing can indicate a variety of ailments, including deteriorating bones in the jaw and mouth. Doctors may want to investigate bone health in older adults who begin experiencing increase dental issues.
A backache is another common sign of osteopenia, especially when the condition is progressing to osteoporosis. There is a risk that backache will hinder people from exercizing, which has a further negative impact on bone health. Weakening bones affect the vertebrae, potentially leading to conditions such as spinal stenosis, which causes pain and numbness in the back and extremities.
As bone density decreases, some people develop a spinal deformity that results in a stooped posture, with the shoulders, neck, and head pushing forward as the thoracic spine of the upper back bends. Over time, this can lead to difficulty breathing or digesting food because it increasingly compresses organs like the lungs, esophagus, and stomach. Anyone who struggles to maintain good posture in addition to experiencing back pain should speak to a doctor.
Aging, recurrent fractures, and frequent pain can limit the amount of exercise that people with osteopenia can manage, increasing the risk of further loss of bone density. This cyclical issue reinforces the need to adopt healthy lifestyle choices as early as possible and explore alternative forms of physical activity tailored to one's capabilities.
Another common symptom of osteopenia is a loss of height. The same vertebral fractures that cause stooped posture can also compress the spine, making a person shorter. Damage to the flexible discs between the vertebrae can cause many issues, but reduced height is one of the most noticeable. Poor posture will exacerbate the issue.
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