Osteomalacia and osteopenia are both bone conditions. They are both characterized by a decrease in bone density. Both disorders are often confused with another bone disorder called osteoporosis. Patients with either of these bone disorders are at a higher risk of bone fractures and breaks.
Osteopenia, unlike osteomalacia, presents with no symptoms. The symptoms of osteomalacia include an aching, dull pain in the pelvis, lower spine, and legs. Patients can also experience weakness in their legs and arms, a waddling gait, decreased muscle tone, and a decrease in their ability to get around.
Both conditions can be caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Bones need adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D to remain thick and strong. If a patient is deficient in one or both of these vitamins and minerals, he is at risk for developing either of these bone disorders.
Several tests can be done to check for osteomalacia and osteopenia. Laboratory tests are often ordered first. The doctor will test the patient to see if there is a calcium or vitamin D deficiency or phosphorus loss. The urine and the blood are the most common laboratory tests for these bone disorders.
X-rays are also commonly used. This diagnostic test can be used to look for bone fractures. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, another type of diagnostic imaging, can be used to test the patient’s bone density to see if she is experiencing bone loss.
Bone biopsies may also be performed. However, this test is not done often and when it is done, it is usually used when attempting to diagnose osteomalacia. For this test, the doctor will very carefully insert a thin needle into a bone and draw out a small sample. This sample is analyzed under a microscope to look for specific changes.
When a vitamin D or calcium deficiency is the cause, supplementation to bring these levels back to normal is often all that is needed to treat these two conditions. Certain lifestyle changes can also be greatly beneficial. These include regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and avoiding smoking, excessive colas, and excessive alcohol will help to keep bones strong and healthy.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Osteomalacia. Retrieved on December 23, 2009 from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteomalacia/DS00935
WebMD. (2008). Osteopenia. Retrieved on December 23, 2009 from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/tc/osteopenia-overview