Top 12 Osteoporosis Terms to Know

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become weak and prone to breaks, you may have unanswered questions. Learning all of the terminology when it comes to bone health can be especially challenging. Here are some definitions for common osteoporosis-related words you’re likely to run into on your health journey.

Woman receive DXA scan for Osteoporosis diagnosis
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What is bone mineral density?

Our bones contain minerals like calcium and phosphorous that make them dense. Bone mineral density (BMD), also called bone mass, is the amount of mineral content in your bones. Your BMD is measured to help diagnose osteoporosis and see how well your treatments are working. Additionally, the measurement can help predict your risk of fractures (another word for broken bones).

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Central DXA: What are bone density tests?

There are certain tests you may have to measure BMD. The main one is called the central DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) test. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), this test is recommended to diagnose osteoporosis. It’s usually done on the hip and spine but can also be done on the radius bone in your arm. It’s quick and painless and uses a small amount of radiation. Another type of screening test, called the peripheral DXA, can be done on your wrist, finger, or heel.

osteopenia on paper and calcium pills.
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What is osteopenia?

You may hear the word “osteopenia” and be confused because of its similarity to the word “osteoporosis.” However, they are not quite the same thing. Osteopenia means you have low bone mass (or BMD), but it’s not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis, according to the NOF. If you’re diagnosed with osteopenia and not osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe medications or other preventive measures to help reduce your risk of it becoming full-on osteoporosis.

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What is peak bone mass?

Another term you may hear your doctor use is “peak bone mass.” This is the point at which you have developed the most bone you will ever have. You typically reach peak bone mass by age 30, according to the NOF. People with lower peak bone mass are at greater risk for osteoporosis.

What is kyphosis?

When osteoporosis leads to fractures of the spine, it may cause something called kyphosis. Kyphosis is when your spine is curved forward, causing you to have a slouching or rounded posture, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It may be treated with a procedure called a kyphoplasty.

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What are antiresorptive medications?

There are two main types of medications your doctor may prescribe for osteoporosis, according to the NOF. The most common types are antiresorptive medications, such as bisphosphonates, calcitonin, estrogen therapy, and others. These help to slow the weakening of your bones, protecting them and reducing your risk of breaks.

Anabolic medication.
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What are anabolic medications?

The other types of medications you may use to help treat or prevent osteoporosis are called anabolic medications, which actually help build bone. The only one available as of 2018 is called teriparatide, according to the NOF.

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What are bone resorption and formation?

Resorption is the process of losing bone, according to the NIH, while formation is the process of gaining new bone. Our bodies lose and gain bone throughout our lives.

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What is weight-bearing exercise?

Whether you already have osteoporosis or you’re working to prevent it, your doctor will likely recommend you pick up some sort of weight-bearing exercise. This type of exercise involves using your bones to bear your body weight. Walking, jogging, climbing stairs, and weight lifting are examples of this type of exercise.

Seniors doing chair exercises.
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What is balance exercise?

In addition to weight-bearing exercise, it’s a good idea to incorporate balance exercises into your routine. Balance exercise is any exercise where you challenge your body to balance, therefore reducing your risk of falls that can lead to fractures, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. Try walking heel to toe, or balancing on one leg for a period of time (using a chair for support).

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What is Daily Value?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes daily values (DVs) on food labels, under the nutrition facts, according to the NOF. This information tells you the total nutrients in each product so you can determine if you are meeting your daily vitamin and mineral needs. For those with osteoporosis, checking the DVs can help you choose foods high in calcium and vitamin D.

Group of older women, most likely to develop osteoporosis.
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Know these terms to advocate for your bone health

These are just some of the common terms you may come across when being diagnosed and treated for osteoporosis and related conditions. In no time, these terms will become part of your vocabulary, and you’ll better be able to navigate your health care and work to protect your bone health.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.