When to Consider a Bone Density Test

Your bones are made of living tissue. Healthy bones are constantly breaking down and being regenerated with new tissue to keep them strong and prevent fractures.

As you age, your bones lose their ability to supply adequate new bone tissue to keep them healthy. This condition, called osteoporosis, affects about 10 million Americans. An additional 44 million Americans have low bone density, or osteopenia, a condition that increases your risk of developing osteoporosis later. 

Osteopenia and the early stages of osteoporosis typically occur without symptoms, so you can begin losing bone mass without knowing it. The screenings and diagnostics specialists at Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan, can determine your risk for conditions like osteoporosis and your need for a bone density test. 

Your physician assesses whether you would benefit from a bone density test based on a physical examination and consideration of factors including your age, medical history, and current condition. If the results of your test indicate osteoporosis, your physician designs a treatment plan to prevent further damage and help improve your condition.

What a bone density test does

The most common and accurate way to test bone density is a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, commonly called a DXA or DEXA scan. This non-invasive procedure uses a CT scan to determine your bone density based on measurements of calcium and other minerals in your bones. 

A bone density test involves measuring the density of bones in your lower arm, hip, and spine. Special computer software determines the strength and thickness, or bone density and mass, of your bones based on the recorded measurements. 

A DXA scan can identify low bone density and strength much earlier than standard x-rays. Identifying low bone density in its earliest stages allows you to begin treatment when it can make the most difference, before symptoms begin or you break a bone. 

Age considerations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a bone density test for women age 65 or older. It’s also advised that you have this test if you’re a woman between the ages of 50 and 64 who has a high risk for osteoporosis based on other factors. 

Age is a factor in bone loss for both sexes. Since men represent about 20% of patients with osteoporosis, the Endocrine Society recommends that men age 70 and older also have a bone density test. The group also recommends the test for men between the ages of 50 and 69 whose condition puts them at a high risk for osteoporosis.

Physical characteristics

While age is used as a general determination for getting a baseline bone density test, having other risk factors for osteoporosis may indicate your need for a bone density test before age 65. 

In addition to being 65 or older and being a woman, you have a higher than normal risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. Your risk for osteoporosis also increases if you have a family history of osteoporosis, especially if one of your parents fractured a hip.

Having a smaller body frame or a low BMI makes you more vulnerable to osteoporosis because your smaller frame has less bone mass to spare as it decreases with age. Your physician may recommend that you have a bone density test earlier to reduce your risk. 

Losing .5 inches or more in a year may also indicate low bone density and the need for a bone density test. 

Other risk factors

Osteoporosis is associated with a wide range of conditions. Your physician considers whether they may have an impact on your bone density based on your age, medical history, and current condition. 

Your physician may recommend a bone density test if you have the following conditions:

Having certain diseases including type 1 diabetes, kidney or liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, celiac disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis can also make you more vulnerable to osteoporosis and more likely to benefit from an early bone density test. 

Lifestyle choices

Without regular movement and exercise, your bones can lose important stimulation that encourages growth. Having any of the physical or medical risk factors along with a sedentary lifestyle can impact the likelihood of low bone density and the need for a bone density test. 

Smoking or drinking large amounts of alcohol are also associated with osteoporosis and may contribute to your physician’s recommendation for a bone density test.

Find out whether you could benefit from a bone density test. Call our office today to arrange a consultation. 

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