What Is Osteoporosis? How Does Osteopenia Differ From Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become less dense, lose strength, and are more likely to break (fracture). Some people describe bones with osteoporosis as  “Swiss cheese.” The word osteoporosis is derived from the Greek  osteo, meaning bones, and porosis, meaning with holes. Osteoporosis happens mainly to women at midlife and later, but also can happen to men and children. In children, new bone forms more quickly than it breaks down so that bone is actually growing all the time.

In adults, bone goes through a constant and normal process where new bone is formed and old bone is broken down simultaneously and at relatively even rates. When more bone is lost than is being formed, Osteopenia and osteoporosis develop.  Although the words sound somewhat alike, osteoporo-sis and osteopenia are a little different from one another.Both relate to bone loss, but the difference is in how much bone is lost. Osteopenia, like osteoporosis, means that the process of bone development has become unbalanced and the rate of bone loss exceeds the rate of new bone growth. With osteopenia, some bone has been lost but not as much as with osteoporosis. Although osteopenia increases your risk of breaking a bone, the risk is not as high as it is with osteoporosis. The word osteopenia comes from two Greek words: osteo, which literally means “bone,” and  penia, which means “lacking.”

So osteopenia is a milder version of osteoporosis but is still very important to your under-standing of bone Health. Many people with osteopenia will go on to develop osteoporosis. Some clinicians prefer to use the term “low bone mass” instead of osteopenia.

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