Diagnosis of osteopenia of prematurity

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Learn about diagnosing osteopenia of prematurity. Osteopenia may be detected through X-rays or through observations of limb trouble and pain.

Key points

  • Generally, diagnosis of osteopenia will focus on the cause, which will determine the proper course of treatment.
  • Osteopenia may be seen as a thinning of the bones or a fracture on an X-ray, or may be detected because the baby appears to be in pain or has trouble moving one of their limbs.
  • Blood tests will be ordered to determine which minerals are lacking and by how much.

Osteopenia is a decrease in bone density and ultimately bone strength. It may be diagnosed with X-rays or through observations of limb trouble and pain.

Some degree of osteopenia is common in lower birth weight babies. The condition puts premature babies at risk for fractures. Sometimes osteopenia is accompanied by rickets, a further weakening of the bones due to a lack of calcification. This can be caused by a lack of vitamin D in the baby’s system, an inability to metabolize vitamin D, or a lack of minerals such as calcium. In most cases the condition is not serious and will not develop into further problems as the child grows. In general, diagnosis will focus on the cause of osteopenia, which will determine the proper course of treatment.

As with most conditions associated with prematurity, the more premature a child is and the lower the birth weight of the child, the more likely they are to develop osteopenia.

How osteopenia is diagnosed

Osteopenia may be seen as a thinning of the bones or a fracture on X-ray, or may be detected because the baby appears to be in pain or has trouble moving one of their limbs. In extreme cases, there may be a swelling or enlargement of some of some bone cartilage, which is called ricketary rosary.

Blood tests will be ordered to determine which minerals are lacking and by how much. Calcium, phosphate, and alkaline phosphatase levels will be measured. If the doctor suspects that the condition is caused by a genetically determined metabolic bone disease, a measurement of vitamin D levels will be taken.

Osteopenia of prematurity X-ray X-ray of normal vertebrae and x-ray of vertebrae affected by osteopenia of prematurity
Normal vertebrae are dense and appear white on the X-ray. In the osteopenia X-ray, only the outer edges of vertebrae appear white. The inside of the vertebrae appears darker because it is less dense. The X-ray shows demineralization of the bone due to loss of calcium and phosphate from the bone.

Related:

Osteopenia of prematurity

Treatment of osteopenia of prematurity

Last updated: October 31st 2009