Broken bones, especially in the older population can be a life-altering event. Fractures are associated with loss of function, decreased independence, and diminished mobility in all ages, but can significantly impact the health of older people who are more likely to sustain a fall and subsequent injury.
For example, studies show that a hip fracture in the over 65 population, is correlated with a threefold increase in mortality compared to the general population in the same age range. This is staggering to consider.
Osteoporosis is a common condition affecting millions of people each year that weakens bones and makes them susceptible to fracture. Like many ailments, osteoporosis is generally invisible to the eye. In fact, lab tests and imaging are crucial to diagnosing osteoporosis so that appropriate measures can occur to slow disease progression and protect the health and well-being of the older population.
What are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Generally, there are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis, and the condition can remain unnoticed for decades. Often, bone fracture is the first sign or symptom of the disease.
Don’t Wait for a Break
There is no reason to wait for fracture to occur to begin to address osteoporosis, but how do you know if you are at risk?
Bone Mineral Density testing is a valuable screening tool that can assess the overall health of your bones and give you critical information to assess the situation. With your provider, you can learn if your bones are weakening and what to do about it now, before a fracture occurs.
Who Should Have a Bone Mineral Density Test?
Specific guidelines outline who needs this test. You should talk to your doctor about scheduling a test if:
You are a woman over 65
You are a man over 70
You break a bone after age 50
You are a woman under 65, postmenopausal, and have certain risk factors
You are a man between 50- 70 with certain risk factors
You are taking medications with side effects that affect bone density
How Does a Bone Mineral Density Test Work? A bone mineral density test is a specialized diagnostic assessment known as Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT). Often performed using a CT scanner, it gives a 3D image and numerical information about the density of your bones. Most often, by checking bone levels in the hip and back region, patients can receive important information about the health of their entire skeletal system. The test is painless and considered low-dose range of radiation levels, like a mammogram. The test inspects the targeted areas and through a precise calibration, converts the images to bone mineral density values reported in T scores. A T score above 1.0 indicates normal bone density, but scores can range downward from there into the negative. In most cases a T score of -2.5 indicates osteoporosis, and even lower, for example T score of -3.5, even lower bone density.
Your doctor can help you understand your specific T score, and what the next best steps should be.
Can I Slow Down Osteoporosis?
Absolutely! If your bone mineral density test puts you in the at-risk category for bone weakening or fracture, there are several things to consider. Lifestyle plays a significant role and things like changing diet, adding a weightbearing exercise regimen or quitting smoking can affect your bones density significantly. Some patients can benefit from medications that either help build bone or slow the loss of bone.
The key though, is finding out. Remember, without testing, the first sign of osteoporosis, is often a fracture. By undergoing bone mineral density testing, you or your loved one can perhaps avoid a painful and debilitating fracture and sustain a higher quality of life for years to come.
How Often Should I Get Tested?
In general, patients in the above categories should have a baseline bone mineral density test to assess the current health of the skeletal system. For Medicare patients, routine testing can occur every 1-2 years, depending on disease severity and progression. In some cases, insurance approves testing when patients are receiving or stopping medication for bone mass or if they have additional risk factors. Many patients decide to pay an out-of-pocket fee for testing even when insurance doesn’t cover the test, to see where their bone health stands. Risk factors that may warrant regular bone mineral density testing also include the following:
You have a medical condition associated with bone loss like hyperthyroidism
You have GI malabsorption, liver, or kidney failure
You have significantly impaired mobility
You take certain medications that can cause bone loss
The Good News With osteoporosis, there’s a lot you can do to change your bone health trajectory, if you have the right information. Bone mineral density testing is a tool that offers valuable information to you and your doctor about the health and well-being of the bones in your body. If you meet the guidelines for general recommended testing, or have certain risk factors that impact bone health, do not delay. By discovering your T score, you can make important decisions that can impact your mobility and long-term health for decades. Talk to your doctor about the test and put the brakes on osteoporosis. Keep moving toward better bone health.