Aging is a natural part of life that is both celebrated and feared. Being aware of what to expect in terms of your health as you grow older is the best way to continue living life to the fullest. After all, your body is the vessel you “drive” every day—which is why you should continue to care for it in the best way possible!
One such way of maintaining your health is to undergo certain diagnostic tests to see your overall health. For many women, bones can become quite brittle as they age. As such, having a bone density test done early on can allow them to take the right measures to care for their bones.
About bone density tests
Bone density tests are radiology tests used to determine the strength of the bones. This information is then used to assess the likelihood of a person being at risk for a fracture or osteoporosis.
The test itself is called a bone mineral density scan (BMD), which takes just a few minutes and is a non-invasive procedure. The BMD differs from bone scans in that it doesn’t use radioactive contrast material to get the result.
How do bone density tests work?
The most well-known and commonly used test is the DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan. It can be used with other devices that measure the density of bones in parts like the hip, spine, wrists, and fingers. The DEXA is also relatively safe to use as it involves a significantly lower radiation exposure compared to the standard chest X-ray.
Central bone density devices can be used for larger body parts and are typically used only in hospitals and clinics. On the other hand, peripheral density devices can be purchased from drugstores and are commonly used at screening sites.
Who is recommended for bone density testing?
Bone density declines as people age. Women, in particular, are especially prone to lowered bone density as they grow older. This is primarily because of hormonal changes.
In premenopausal women, estrogen is still being produced in the body to maintain its bone density. The changes brought about by menopause cause a dip in estrogen, which, in turn, causes bone loss at an increasing rate every year. This can result in a total loss of 25% to 30% in bone density during the first five to ten years post-menopause.
Deciding if and when you need a bone density test can and should be discussed with your doctor. Usually, this is recommended for women who are 65 years old and older. However, post-menopausal women who are younger but have any of the following risk factors for osteoporosis should consider taking the test:
- history of bone fractures or being related to someone with a history of bone fractures
- excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine
- intake of medication which causes bone loss (ex: prednisone)
- vitamin D deficiency
- low body weight / small-boned body frame
- physical inactivity
- early menopause or late periods
- low estrogen levels
Reading your bone density test results
Your bone density test results will usually be reported as two types of scores:
T-score: Compares your bone density to that of healthy young women
Z-score: Compares your bone density to a similar population—people with similar ages, races, and genders
Negative numbers will indicate that you have thinner bones than what is considered standard, both for T-scores and Z-scores. The more negative the score, the more bone loss is recorded.
Excessively low scores can indicate the beginning of osteoporosis or significant bone loss. This corresponds to a score T-score ranging between -1 and -2.5. Anything lower than -2.5 is a confirmation of osteoporosis!
Aging can present the elderly with challenges and limitations, but that doesn’t mean it should hinder them from living a full and happy life, even in their old age. They say knowledge is power, and relying on one’s family doctor to be informed on the state of one’s health is the greatest advantage.
If you or a loved one might be suffering from bone density loss, it might be a good time to look into a bone mineral density scan. Here at Garden State Medical Group, we offer high-quality primary care in NJ. We feature everything from cardiopulmonary care, onsite radiology services, and utilizing the latest tools and techniques. Visit our website to learn more about our services today!