Throughout our lives, our bones are constantly being broken down through a process called resorption, while also being reformed. The rate of bone formation is much quicker than bone resorption during our childhood and teenage years, but this rate starts to change in our 30s. This downward trend in bone formation can lead to the most common type of bone disease – osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a serious condition in which excessive bone loss causes bones to fracture easily, causing two million broken bones in the US each year. This condition, along with its precursor osteopenia, affects nearly 54 million Americans over the age of 50. Osteoporosis and osteopenia both increase your risk of fractures, particularly in the hips, spine, and wrists. However, because both of these conditions have no symptoms, this condition can go left completely untreated. But what if there was a way to detect it, allowing you to start taking steps now to avoid complications later? There is, and it’s called a DEXA scan.
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan, or DEXA for short, uses advanced X-ray technology to examine bones, determining how dense they are and how much bone mass has been lost. While there are several tests and methods that can be used to diagnose bone loss, the DEXA bone density scan is considered the gold standard. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends bone density scans for everyone over age 65, but it can be useful to have the test taken earlier. The scan can tell you the status of your bone health and help your doctor determine what steps you need to take should the results indicate bone loss and osteoporosis risk.
Like all medical procedures, it’s important to consider the potential benefits and risks of having the scan. Though there is some radiation from a DEXA scan, the amount is less than one-tenth the dose of a standard chest X-ray and less than the amount of natural radiation you are exposed to in a day. On the other hand, there are some significant benefits – while the test itself is painless and relatively fact, the results are extremely accurate in diagnosing bone loss and evaluating the risk of osteoporosis and fracture.
Whatever your age, if you’re concerned about your bone health, you can request a DEXA bone density scan from your doctor. If you are a woman who is 65 or older or a man who is at least 70, your physician should recommend a screening for you even if you don’t appear to be at risk for osteoporosis, according to guidelines from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. However, getting a DEXA scan before age 65 can give you peace of mind if it shows your bones are healthy.
Being diagnosed with osteoporosis may feel like a blow, but there are many things you can do to help preserve your bone health and minimize bone loss as you get older. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits like eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and moderating your alcohol intake are effective ways to manage osteoporosis, but they can also boost your overall health and well-being. Our providers, including our nutritionist in our Wellness Studio, can help counsel you about your lifestyle habits and help you make the best decisions for your bone health.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, or want to start working to prevent it, we invite you to call us at 703.349.5100 to schedule an appointment with our nutritionist here at Arthritis & Sports. To stay up-to-date on the latest news and tips from us, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter by clicking below.
Office of the Surgeon General (US). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2004.
Cosman F, de Beur SJ, LeBoff MS, et al. Clinician’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International. 2014;25(10):2359-2381.