Bone Density: Why It Matters & Where To Get It Tested

Osteoporosis illustration

What is a bone density test?

Osteoporosis—a disease of dangerously fragile bones—can sneak up on you. That’s because it doesn’t cause any symptoms. People usually don’t know they have it until a bone breaks unexpectedly, often from a minor fall.

A bone mineral density (BMD) test measures how strong your bones are. It’s the only test that can tell you if you have osteoporosis or not. It can also:

• Predict your risk of fractures.

• Let you know if you have osteoporosis after a fracture.

• See if osteoporosis treatment is making your bones stronger.

Should you get tested?

Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, and it’s more common later in life. As a result, a BMD test is advised for all women age 65 and older. Your doctor may also recommend it if you are at high risk for osteoporosis—whether you’re a man or a woman.

A BMD test can be done several ways. The most accurate method is called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (or DXA for short). This test is painless and similar to having an x-ray.

What do the results mean?

The results of a BMD test are reported as T-scores, which compare the strength of your bones to those of a healthy 30-year-old. A low T-score means you have thinner, weaker bones than a healthy young adult. The more negative the number, the greater your risk of a broken bone. A T-score:

• Between +1 and -1 means your bones are normal and healthy.

• Between -1.1 and -2.4 means your bone density is lower than normal, but not yet low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis. Doctors call this low bone mass osteopenia.

• -2.5 or less means you have osteoporosis.

Even if a BMD test shows you have osteoporosis, you and your doctor can work together to manage it and help prevent fractures.

Know your bone density

Throughout the month of May, in recognition of Women’s Health Month, Carson Valley Medical Center is offering discounted medical screenings, including mammograms and a full women’s health screening package.

DEXA bone density scans will be available for $50 by appointment on May 9 and May 16. Call 775-782-1550 to book an appointment or visit www.cvmchospital.org/women for more information.

Sources: National Institutes of Health; National Osteoporosis Foundation; UpToDate

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