What is osteopenia?

Word from Greek Origin

Osteopenia literally means “deficiency of bone.”


Osteopenia is low bone density, which is the preferred term. Osteopenia is not a disease.

Low bone density may be a result of starting with a lower bone mass at maturity or bone loss, or the combination of the two.

Osteopenia by Bone Density Scan – DXA

The most common reason you’ll probably hear or see the word osteopenia will be from your bone density scan results. Bone mineral density results of your lumbar spine and regions of your hip are reported in standardized numbers called “T-score.” Osteopenia or low bone density is defined by a T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 standard deviations.

Assess Risk of Fracture

The results of your bone density scan are combined with your clinical risk factors to assess your risk of fracture. Your risk may range from low to high pending on your age, gender, height, weight, and selected clinical risk factors for fracture. A tool called FRAX is used to calculate your 10-year risk of major fractures and hip fracture. This is useful starting point for you and your doctor to talk about your individual risk of fracture.

Treatment Guidelines

Whether you would benefit from prescription treatment for low bone mass depends on your risk and overall health assessment. Treatment with an FDA-approved medicine for osteoporosis is recommended for those with low bone mass who are at high risk for fracture.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation guidelines identify high-risk individuals with low bone mass (T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 standard deviations) using the fracture risk assessment tool FRAX . Either a ten-year probability of major osteoporotic fracture of 20% or greater or a ten-year probability of hip fracture of 3% a greater are categorized as high risk.

If you fall with in these criteria or have other risk factors that put you at greater risk for fracture, you should discuss your treatment options with your doctor in order to lower your risk of a future fracture.

Osteopenia on Plain Film X-rays

The term osteopenia may be used describing changes on an x-ray when the bone appears more radiolucent. However, a plain x-ray is unable to quantitate bone mass like a bone density DXA scan.