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home | Featured Articles | Osteopenia: An Early Osteoporosis Wa . . .

Osteopenia: An Early Osteoporosis Warning For You and Your Elders

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Osteopenia refers to a condition where the density and strength of our bones (the bone mineral density, or BMD) is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as full blown osteoporosis. Having osteopenia means there is a greater risk that, as time passes, someone may develop osteoporosis, which is a very low bone mineral density.

Osteopenia is the precursor to osteoporosis. Although many don't know it, millions more Americans have osteopenia than have osteoporosis. A diagnosis of osteopenia means that bone loss has started, but it has not progressed to the point of osteoporosis.

There are no symptoms of osteopenia that you can check yourself. There is no pain or change as the bone becomes thinner, although the risk of breaking a bone, especially a hip, a wrist or a bone in your spine, increases as the bone becomes less dense.

Even later in life it is possible to take steps to slow bone deterioration. The source of much frustration is that many doctors don't include a bone mineral density test as part of their routine health screening of older patients. The test is simple, similar to an x-ray, and not painful in any way. The results can be life-saving, because fractures from osteoporosis put many an older person into wheelchairs or beds in nursing homes.

Who is Most at Risk For Osteoporosis?

The following factors may put someone at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis:

• Age 50 or older
• Female
• A family history of broken bones
• A personal history of broken bones
• White or Asian
• Small-boned
• Low body weight (less than about 127 pounds)
• Smoke or drink a lot
• Eat a low-calcium diet

When Does Medicare Cover Osteopenia/Osteoporosis Tests?

Medicare Part B covers bone density tests for all people with Medicare whose doctors say they are at risk for osteoporosis. You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible. Patients with Medicare supplement insurance should have little or no out-of-pocket expense.

How often Are Bone Density Tests Covered?

Once every 24 months (more often if medically necessary

Ask your elder if he or she has ever had a BMD test. If not, the best time to have one is now. If the test is normal, then there's nothing to worry about. If the results show that bone deterioration is occurring, there are medications and life style changes that may help prevent progression to full blown osteoporosis.