As all of us age, the mass and density of our bones slowly begin to weaken. This is a natural part of aging and something that we all face down the road. However, when you are at a higher risk for breaking a bone or the density of your bones is limiting your activity and lifestyle, you may have a condition known as osteoporosis. Generally found in older adults, osteoporosis is marked by weak, brittle bones that can worsen without medical treatment. In order to diagnose this condition, it’s essential that you have a bone density test.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
The scary thing about osteoporosis is there are often no symptoms at all until a person experiences a bone fracture. Many people have no signs of the condition prior to breaking a bone. However, some individuals will experience a loss of height as their spine and other bones begin to lose density. You may also notice increased back pain or worsening posture from weakened bones. Because there are typically only subtle symptoms associated with osteoporosis, it’s vital to get a bone density test to measure your bones’ strength and seek medical treatment, which can help slow the process.
How Does a Bone Density Test Work?
A bone density test is designed to tell you whether or not the strength of your bones is within the normal range for your age. As the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis, it is highly recommended for older adults, especially women who have gone through menopause. It is generally a painless, non-invasive screening that uses X-rays to measure the density of your bones without having to take a sample. The test itself usually takes only 15 minutes and requires the patient to lie still as an imaging machine scans certain parts of the body.
Apart from a DXA scan, a specialized low-dose CT scan can be used to diagnose and monitor low bone density by providing detailed images and information of the bone tissue. There is no painful procedure, sedation, or involved preparation that is needed for this type of scan. You simply lie flat on a bed and allow the CT machine to capture images of your body (usually the spine). From there, a trained radiologist will be able to read your scans and determine your bone density.
Men between the ages of 50 and 69 with risk factors
If osteoporosis runs in your family or you’ve experienced bone fractures in the past, you are at a higher risk of bone loss as you age. Also, if you experience increasing back pain or loss of height as you get older, this could be a sign that you are losing bone mass and should consider a bone density test.
If your doctor suspects you may be losing bone density or could be suffering from osteoporosis, they will most likely refer you to a specialist and order a bone density test to confirm the diagnosis. The sooner you catch osteoporosis, the better your chances are of slowing the process and securing a healthy and active future for yourself.
Understanding the Results of Your Bone Density Test
After the images from your bone density scan have been analyzed, you’ll get results in the form of a T-score. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), here is how to interpret your T-score after a bone density test:
A T-score of -1.0 or above is considered normal bone density.
A T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 means you have low bone density (osteopenia).
A T-score of -2.5 or below will result in a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Overall, the lower a patient’s T-score, the lower their bone density, and the higher their risk of suffering from bone fractures in the future. Using your T-score, your doctor is able to see the current condition of your bones and how aggressively they need to treat your bone density loss.
What Are the Treatments for Osteoporosis?
If your bone density test reveals that you do have low bone density or osteoporosis, you may have caught it early enough that your doctor can make recommendations on how to intervene and prevent further bone loss. Treatment for osteoporosis can vary from patient to patient, but it often involves:
Medication to help strengthen bones
Regular weight-bearing exercise
Proper nutrition that is high in calcium and vitamin D
Your doctor will most likely recommend quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake to help fight the symptoms of osteoporosis. In addition, you will need to get regular bone density tests to measure bone loss progression and whether or not the treatments are helping. Your treatment may need to be adjusted depending on the results of your periodic bone density tests.
Keeping Your Bones Healthy and Strong
As with other aspects of your health, prevention is key to maintaining strong and healthy bones as you age. If you can detect bone loss and prevent osteoporosis from progressing, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to live an active, pain-free lifestyle well into your 70s and beyond.
Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas offers ways for people to take control of their health through preventative screenings and scans. Using a low-dose SOMATOM go.ALL CT scanner, our patients are able to get high-quality images and accurate test results without having to be exposed to high levels of radiation. To learn more about our preventative scans and how they can help you, contact our team today for more information.
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Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Healt