Do I Need a Bone Density Test?

Woman in her 40s undergoing scan at bone densitometer machineYou can’t really gauge the health of our bones just by looking in the mirror. You do have some options, however, to learn if your bones are strong: you can wait until you break one and discover a weakness, or you can take a bone mineral density test, also known as a bone density test. Bone density test sounds a bit more appealing, doesn’t it?

Your doctor can use a bone density test to detect osteoporosis, a type of bone disease that weakens your bones, and determine if you’re at risk for fractures. The test measures levels of calcium and other minerals that indicate bone density. It’s performed most commonly with a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan.

If you’re a woman over age 65 or a younger woman who’s at high risk for fractures, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) currently recommend a bone density test. In addition, the NOF describes other candidates for bone density testing: women who have who have broken a bone after age 50; menopausal women with risk factors for osteoporosis (see next paragraph); and, postmenopausal women under age 65 with risk factors.[1],[2]

Risk factors for osteoporosis include a family history of the disease; low body weight or a small, thin build; broken bones or height loss; inactive lifestyle; smoking; drinking too much alcohol; and nutritional issues, such as not getting enough calcium and vitamin D or not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Some medications, such as steroid medicines, can increase risk of bone loss; ask your doctor if anything you’ve been prescribed might put you at risk. There are also diseases and health conditions that can put you at risk, including autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, and more.

Your healthcare provider can help you decide when you should take a bone density test. By monitoring your bone health and following other healthy bone recommendations, such as doing regular weight-bearing exercise and making sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you can help keep your bones strong and prevent fractures.

References:

[1] Screening for Osteoporosis—Recommendation Statement. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf10/osteoporosis/osteors.htm. Accessed July 12, 2014.

[2] Having a Bone Density Test. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: http://nof.org/articles/743. Accessed July 12, 2014.