Bones have a tendency to get thinner as a normal part of aging. Yet, there is a point where your bones may thin out more than what is considered to be typical for your age and body type. You may start out in life with lower bone mass than average, or you might have experienced a health condition that depleted your bones of calcium and other minerals. A bone density scan, or DEXA scan, helps you to see how much bone mass you have so that you can prevent fractures and
Who Should Get a Bone Density Scan?
Women who are post-menopausal are at the highest risk for complications caused by losing bone mass. Typically, you’ll be recommended to get a bone density scan by the age of 65 if you fall within that category. Men may be able to wait until later, but there are times when they need a scan earlier.
You might need one sooner if you have multiple fractures after you’ve reached 50 years of age. You may also need to schedule a bone density scan if you lose more than a half-inch of height in a year or are underweight. People who smoke, drink heavily or that have low vitamin D levels will also want to inquire about getting a scan done earlier. Certain medications can further increase your risk of losing bone mass rapidly, such as glucocorticoids.
Are Bone Density Scans Safe?
This type of testing uses x-rays that provide similar does of radiation as what you experience during dental imaging. The scan is safe, and any minimal risk that you might experience is outweighed by the ability to prevent injuries such as a hip fracture that could limit your quality of life. People who are pregnant will naturally want to talk to their doctor before having a bone density scan. If you aren’t pregnant, then you can feel safe going forward with the testing.
What Do They Show?
The scan measures the levels of calcium and other minerals in your bones. Your physician can look at the results of the scan to determine if you have osteopenia, or low bone mass. They can also tell if your condition has progressed to the point of osteoporosis. Using this information, they can then identify your risk for future fractures and develop a plan to help prevent them.
What Happens If the Test Shows Low Bone Density?
Your test results are provided in what is known as a T-score. A lower score means that you have some degree of bone loss. If so, then remember not to stress out. One of the most important reasons to have a bone scan done is to identify ways to prevent the condition from getting worse. You may need to do special exercises to help retain the bone mass you currently have. Adding certain vitamins or supplements to your diet can help, and you can also take special medications to maintain bone mass if you receive an osteoporosis diagnosis.
A bone density scan only takes a few minutes to perform. It is painless, low risk and can reveal valuable insights into how strong your bones are at a given time. Getting a bone scan empowers you by providing you with information about where you are at and how you can preserve your bone strength as you age.