Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


3-minute read

If your bones are weaker than normal, you might have osteopaenia. It's not as severe as osteoporosis, but you still have to be careful if you are especially at risk.

What is osteopaenia?

Osteopaenia (sometimes spelled osteopenia) is the medical name for low bone density, or thinning of the bones. If you have low bone density, your bones are more fragile. It can be easier to break or partially break a bone if you have an accident.

Osteopaenia is not as severe as osteoporosis — your bones won’t be as fragile. Also, not everyone who has osteopaenia will develop osteoporosis, but it is an early warning sign that you should be taking action to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis and breaking a bone in future.

Causes of osteopaenia

Many things can cause osteopaenia, including:

  • getting older
  • poor bone health that runs in the family
  • not getting enough vitamin D, calcium and exercise
  • being underweight
  • smoking
  • drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • having a disease such as coeliac disease or cystic fibrosis
  • chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, and kidney disease
  • some medicines, including steroids, for a long time
  • having an eating disorder

Diagnosis of osteopaenia

Osteopaenia doesn’t have any symptoms. You might only find out that you have it when you break a bone. This could happen after a small accident, like a knock or a slip.

You can talk to your doctor about your risk of developing osteopaenia.

If your doctor thinks that you are at risk, you might be referred for a bone density scan. This test measures the level of minerals in your bones. You might have scans taken of your hips, part of your spine, your wrists and other places.

Your doctor will examine the results and compare your bone density to that of other people. This will show if you have normal bone density, osteopaenia or osteoporosis.

If you have any of these tests, you should ask your doctor whether you are eligible for any Medicare rebates.

Risk factors for osteopaenia

Most people find their bone density decreases as they get older.

Women can develop low bone density after menopause. Because levels of the hormone oestrogen decline, the bones lose calcium and other minerals quite quickly. So going through menopause early puts a woman at risk.

A lack of hormones can also be a risk for men.

Osteopaenia runs in families. Tell your doctor if someone in your family has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, or has broken a bone after a knock or a fall.

Lifestyle can also be an important factor. You need to eat food containing enough calcium, and get enough vitamin D from your diet or from outdoor sunlight.

Not exercising enough or being overweight can also affect bone density. If you smoke, quit. If you drink a lot of alcohol, cut down.

Treatment for osteopaenia

There are 3 important parts of treatment for osteopaenia.

  • Get enough calcium by consuming dairy foods, tinned salmon or sardines, broccoli, almonds and more.
  • Get enough vitamin D by being in the sun each day (but make sure you protect yourself against sunburn). How long you need will depend on where you live where you live.
  • Stay active with things like brisk walking or jogging, skipping, dancing or sport. Swimming and cycling, while healthy in other ways, don't strengthen your bones as much as weight bearing exercise.

You can also talk to your doctor about supplements.

If you have health conditions that put you at risk of falling, an occupational therapist can help you reduce that risk.

Healthy Bones Australia also has lots of information on bone health.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Osteopenia and Bone Health

Osteopenia simply describes low bone density following a bone density scan (also known as a bone density test). Osteopenia is based on the result from this scan and is in the range between normal and osteoporosis

Read more on Healthy Bones Australia website

Osteopenia Causes | Jean Hailes

There are many causes of osteopenia and osteoporosis. Learn about these different factors and how they may affect bone density.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

What is osteoporosis? | Jean Hailes

What is osteoporosis? Find out what you need to know about osteoporosis and bone strength. Learn the difference between osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Bone mineral density tests -

Bone mineral density testing assesses the mineral content of your bones. Low bone mineral density - osteopenia or osteoporosis - makes bones weak.

Read more on myDr website

Osteoporosis - Pain Condition - painHEALTH

Learn about Osteoporosis as a muscularskeletal pain condition to identify how you can approach Osteoporosis in your co-management treatment plan

Read more on painHEALTH website

Osteoporosis explained

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weak, fragile & more likely to fracture. Find out more about osteoporosis & how it is treated & managed.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Osteoporosis treatment options -

Osteoporosis treatment choices (including medicines and lifestyle measures) are based on your age, sex, general health, the severity of your osteoporosis and the likelihood of you breaking a bone. 

Read more on myDr website

Osteoporosis - Hormones Australia

Over 1.2 million Australians have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis. It is a condition where the bones lose strength and become thin and fragile...

Read more on Hormones Australia website

How is osteoporosis diagnosed? | Jean Hailes

To assess your bone density and risk of developing osteoporosis, your doctor may ask you questions linked to the causes of osteoporosis.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Osteoporosis Treatment and Bone Health

Diagnosed osteoporosis requires prescribed treatment to protect bone health.

Read more on Healthy Bones Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.