People who have certain risk factors for low bone mass or osteoporosis should consider regular screening with a bone density exam. Women who are past menopause are at greatest risk; men over age 70 are also at risk and should be screened. Your risk is also higher if osteoporosis runs in your family.
Our doctors also strongly recommend that people who have taken medications, such as corticosteroids or certain anticonvulsants, for a long time get tested because long-term use of these medications can lead to bone loss.
People with hormonal disorders, such as hyperthyroidism and hyperparathyroidism, have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis, as do those diagnosed with the endocrine condition known as Cushing’s syndrome. Those who have rheumatoid arthritis and certain digestive disorders are also at risk.
Lifestyle choices can also affect your risk. Because your bones require calcium for strength, people with diets low in the mineral or vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium, have a greater chance of developing low bone mass or osteoporosis. Drinking alcohol excessively is also known to decrease bone density. If you have a sedentary lifestyle and don’t have good muscle tone or are a smoker, you may also be at risk.
Your doctor can help you determine how often you should have a bone density test. Most doctors suggest that all postmenopausal women older than age 50 and men older than 70 have a bone density test once every two years to screen for low bone mass and osteoporosis. However, if you have any of the risk factors listed above or have already been diagnosed with low bone mass, your doctor may suggest earlier and more frequent screening.
A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, commonly known as a bone density scan, is the gold standard for osteoporosis and low bone mass screening and diagnosis. It is a painless, low-dose X-ray, generally of the hip and spine, although in some cases the forearm is included. A DEXA scan assesses the mineral content that comprises the bones.
The DEXA scan involves lying flat for about 20 minutes while a device takes readings of your bone mineral density from above. A bone density scan provides what is known as a T score, which is compared with the average bone density in a young, healthy male or female adult of the same race or ethnicity.
Based on your score, your doctor can determine whether you have low bone mass or osteoporosis. He or she considers the score along with your risk factors to determine whether you require treatment.
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