You've just received the results of your bone density scan, and good news: You do not have osteoporosis, a serious condition that can make you more likely to break your bones. But, your doctor tells you, you're not in the clear, either. You have osteopenia, also known as low bone density. So what does this diagnosis mean for your life and health? How serious is osteopenia and what can you do about it? Sorting Out the "Osteos": Osteoporosis, Osteopenia and Osteoarthritis First, some definitions for three common bone-related conditions with similar-sounding names, but which refer to different syndromes. Osteoporosis is a progressive bone disease affecting about 10 million Americans, many--but not all--over the age of 50. People with this condition have fragile bones that are gradually becoming more porous, brittle and diminished, putting them at risk for fracture. Osteoporosis is commonly diagnosed through a bone density scan, called a DEXA (or DXA), which uses low-dose X-rays to check your bones, most often your spine and hips. Scores of -2.5 or lower are markers for osteoporosis. Osteopenia is estimated to affect about 44 million Americans. People with bone density scan scores between -1 and -2.49 are said to have this condition. With osteopenia, your bones have started to weaken, raising your fracture risk, but not to the extent seen with osteoporosis. People with osteopenia may progress to osteoporosis, but not always. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in your joints becomes inflamed and wears away, causing joint pain. The condition affects the connective tissue in your bone's joints rather than the one itself. However, bone spurs can form in your joints and bits of bone can chip off as the protective cartilage diminishes. Should You Have a Scan to Check for Osteopenia? In general, women over 65 or men over 70 should be tested, recommends the National Osteoporosis Foundation. However, osteopenia can occur at any age. Other risk factors include having a low-impact fracture (such as after a fall from a standing height), especially over age 50; having a family history of osteoporosis; being thin with a small frame; taking certain medications, such as steroids or some cancer drugs; having certain illnesses, such as anorexia or irritable bowel syndrome; having a sedentary lifestyle; experiencing a loss in height of more than a half-inch in a year; smoking; excessive drinking; and many others. Bone density scans are quick (about 20 minutes), painless and relatively inexpensive (about $100, often covered by insurance or Medicare). If you have osteopenia, you may need to have scans every 2 to 5 years to make sure your condition hasn't progressed to osteoporosis. If you think you are at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis, check with your doctor to see if you should have this test. What Should I Do if I’m Diagnosed With Osteopenia? If you have low bone mass but haven't had any broken bones, doctors usually will see if diet and lifestyle changes will help you, rather than putting you on medication. These changes can help slow or stop bone loss. You likely will be advised to: Eat a healthy, balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein, being sure to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Your doctor may recommend you meet with a dietitian for nutrition counseling. Consider supplements, particularly vitamin D, which is more difficult to get from food and sunshine alone. Adequate vitamin D is essential for healthy calcium absorption. Your doctor can test the vitamin D in your blood to see if you need to take this step. Do weight-bearing exercise at least 30 minutes most days. This can be any exercise where your feet touch the ground, such as walking quickly, dancing or running. Low-impact exercise like swimming, biking or elliptical training don't count. Also try resistance training that can help build your core strength and balance, such as weightlifting, tai chi, yoga, push-ups, stair climbing or standing on one leg. Avoid smoking and drink in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women and two for men).Take prescription medication if you have also had a fracture or have other risk factors for osteoporosis. Osteopenia doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop osteoporosis or have fractures. But it needs to be taken seriously. Consult your physician about the nutrition, lifestyle and medication steps you need to take to protect your bone health.