Nearly twenty years ago, the World Health Organization recognized a condition termed osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis and defined as a thinning of bone mass. What the WHO tried to convey was that women who showed the initial signs of bone loss could take timely measures to reverse the condition, before it transformed into a full- fledged bone disease, osteoporosis.
Mostly in women and in some cases in men, the bone renewal process, which is when our bones are replaced constantly with fresh tissue, comes to a halt and towards midlife, the loss of bone mass begins, which if left unchecked accelerates during menopause in women, because of estrogen loss.
The hormone estrogen stimulates osteoblast or bone- forming cell activity. However, osteopenia is a normal process in humans much like graying hair, according to rheumatologist Dr. Nortin Hadler, with the University of North Carolina.
Osteopenia is diagnosed by comparing a person’s bone mineral density with that of a young healthy adult who has peak bone density, which is reached during the late twenties or early thirties. Bone mineral density of a person is assessed by the T-score, where a negative T-score indicates low bone density while a positive score is higher bone mineral density. A person who has a zero T-score has bone mineral density equal to that of a young healthy adult. To be categorized as osteopenic, a person should have a T-score lower than minus 1.
The DEXA scan which is the acronym for Dual Energy X-ray Absorption test measures a person’s bone mass. The denser the bone mass, lesser the number of x-rays that pass through the bone. Therefore, osteopenia patients can take heart, and start immediate remedial measures to keep osteoporosis at bay.