Osteoporosis, the condition that causes bones to shrink and become brittle and susceptible to fracture, affects millions of Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. Researchers estimate that osteoporosis is the culprit behind more than 1.5 million fractures annually. Yet osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because symptoms of bone fragility may not appear until something such as a fracture points to its existence. If osteoporosis is caught in its early stages, however, lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) and medication may slow down or arrest the bone loss well before such damage occurs.
A bone mineral density screening (BMD, or bone density screening or testing) is the most accurate way to assess early osteoporosis. Bone density screening is fast, painless and completely noninvasive—in fact, you are fully clothed during the imaging.
According to experts such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) machine remains the “gold standard” for testing. DEXA’s advantages include high precision, minimal radiation exposure and rapid scanning time.
Some doctors even recommend a baseline bone density test for premenopausal women in their 40s. But most experts recommend that if you are postmenopausal, you should discuss with your doctor the possibility of a screening, especially if you:
- are 65 years or older. The older you are, the weaker your bones become.
- have had a bone fracture. Since menopause or have a history of bone fractures as an adult.
- are Caucasian or Asian. For reasons not completely understood, African-American women have a higher peak bone mass.
- are thin or small-framed. Even women whose low weight is normal for their frames are at higher risk for osteoporosis.
- smoke. Many studies suggest some connection between tobacco use and bone loss.
- have a history of alcoholism. Alcohol use has been linked to a disruption in the way the body uses and stores calcium, an important mineral to bone health.
- have a medical history associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, such as endometriosis, hemophilia, lymphoma, leukemia, eating and nutritional disorders, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
- take lithium or heparin.