You may have heard it before: Bone loss comes with old age. Unfortunately, it is true – especially for women. As we age, our bones become weak and brittle. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women over 65 years old have a bone density test.
You may be wondering why it is especially important for women to get their bones checked. Let’s get started!
Why should I get a bone density test?
A bone density test is used to assess bone strength and the probability of fractures. It can also show the doctor if you have normal bone density, low bone density (osteopenia), or osteoporosis.
You may have heard time and time again that women are prone to developing osteoporosis. However, a bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs.
What is the procedure for a bone density test?
There are different kinds of bone density tests, but the most common one is a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan. This scan can be performed with devices to measure bone density in the hip and spine or with smaller peripheral devices to measure bone density in the wrist, heel, or finger. The DXA scan emits only a very small amount of radiation. Doctors believe this test it the most useful and reliable.
Bone density tests are noninvasive and take no longer than 10 to 30 minutes. You will be asked to lie on a padded platform, while a mechanical arm hangs over your body. You will be exposed to very little radiation – much less than you would experience during a chest X-ray.
Why are women more at risk for developing osteoporosis?
About 18 million out of the estimated 10 million Americans living with osteoporosis are women. Why? There are many reasons why women are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. For example, women have smaller and thinner bones than men, which means the bones aren’t as strong. Estrogen can also cause bone loss once women reach menopause. Estrogen is a hormone that is meant to protect bones, but it decreases greatly once menopause hits.
The good news is that there are many ways to prevent, detect, and treat osteoporosis. It is never too early to start taking care of yourself and your bones. If you are looking for ways to improve your bone health, ask your doctor for some tips and recommendations.
When should I get a bone density test?
For women, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that if you are older than 65, have broken a bone after 50, are a woman of menopausal age with risk factors, or are a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors, you should schedule a bone density tests.
It doesn’t just stop there. If you believe you are getting shorter, are dealing with back pain or a possible break in your spine, or are experiencing bone loss in your spine, a bone density test may also be necessary. Most health plans will cover bone density testing every two years, including Medicare.
What do the results mean?
Once you receive your test results, it may be a little confusing to understand. The results are shown as a “T” or “Z” score. T-scores represent numbers that compare your bones’ condition with those of an average young person with healthy bones. Z-scores represent numbers that compare your bones’ condition with those of an average person your age. You are at greater risk of a fracture if your T-score is low.
Normal Bone Density: If your T-score is between a +1 and -1, you have normal bone density. You will not usually need treatment, but it can be useful to begin preventative methods, like lifting weights or taking vitamins.
Low Bone Mass or Osteopenia: If your T-score is between -1.1 and -2.4, you have osteopenia. Osteopenia is not osteoporosis, but it does mean you are at risk of developing osteoporosis. This means that the bone density is less than normal, but has not reached extremely low levels, yet.
Osteoporosis: People with osteoporosis have a T-score of -2.5 or less. If the negative number is higher, it actually means there is less bone density, since it is a negative number. The risk of a fracture increases as your bone density levels decrease.
Once your results have come in, your doctor can make recommendations on the next steps to take that can reduce the likelihood of breaking a bone. Before prescribing osteoporosis medicine as a treatment method, your doctor will need to look at your medical history and current health to determine the risk factors.
Visit the Institute for Women’s Health
If you are live in San Antonio and are interested in getting your bone density tested, visit the Institute for Women’s Health. Our physicians can perform bone density scans and will discuss the results with you. It’s never too late to be prepared! Book your appointment today by calling (210) 34-WOMAN or (210) 349-6626.