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Now is the Best Time for a Bone Density Test
General Wellness

Now is the Best Time for a Bone Density Test

By Your Health Staff
Posted: June 3, 2024

When we’re young, our bones constantly change, with new bone growth replacing the old to keep bones strong. But as we get older, bone growth slows, and existing bones break down faster than new bones grow. People concerned about their bone health can consider taking a bone density test. This painless test is an X-ray study that provides information about your bone strength and thickness by measuring calcium and other bone minerals.

A common type of bone density test uses dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA scan) to measure bone density in the spine, hips and wrists to determine whether you have osteopenia or osteoporosis.

“When you have lost some bone mineral density, and your bones are thinner than normal levels, you have osteopenia — which can be a precursor to a more severe condition called osteoporosis,” says Cherie Heard, Director of Radiology at Methodist South Hospital. “Osteoporosis is a more severe level of bone loss, and the bones may be brittle and can easily break. This places you at an increased risk of broken bones.”

Who’s at Risk for Bone Loss?

Women are four times more likely to develop osteopenia than men. In the United States, about 54% of postmenopausal women have osteopenia. Additionally, having a family history of osteopenia or osteoporosis can increase your risk for those conditions.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being Asian or white
  • Being underweight or having small bones
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Having hyperthyroidism
  • Smoking or tobacco use
  • Taking medications like corticosteroids, proton pump inhibitors or anticonvulsants

Worldwide, approximately 500 million people have osteoporosis. Approximately 1 in 3 women ages 50 and older will experience a fracture from osteoporosis during their lifetime.


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When to Start Scheduling Bone Density Tests

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, all women 65 or older should have a bone density scan. If you fall into any of the high-risk groups, even if you’re a man or a healthy young adult, you should talk with your primary care provider to determine your risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis. Make an appointment to get a bone density test if it’s recommended.

What’s a Bone Density Test Like?

For the bone density test, you’ll lie on your back on a table. While you’ll need to remove any metal objects like jewelry, you may not have to undress depending on which body parts are being scanned and what clothes you’re wearing. While lying on the table, a technologist scans you with the machine, which passes over you but won’t touch you.

“There really isn’t any kind of preparation for a DEXA scan, and you can eat and drink normally in the hours leading up to it,” Heard says. “Once the test  is completed, you can return home, go to work or resume your normal activities.”

Prevention is Key

If your bone density test reveals that you have osteopenia, it’s not too late to stop it from developing into osteoporosis. Although some factors are beyond your control, you can make lifestyle changes and take medications to lower your fracture risk and prevent you from losing more bone mass.

Your provider might suggest:

  • A healthy diet that includes low-fat dairy, vegetables and fruit for more calcium and vitamin D intake.
  • Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol use.
  • Regular, weight-bearing exercises, like walking or weight training to build bone and muscle strength.
  • Taking medication to help prevent further bone loss.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has Imaging & Diagnostic Center locations throughout the Memphis area. Call 901-516-9000 to schedule an appointment for a bone density scan.

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