When should screening for osteoporosis begin?


When should screening for osteoporosis begin?

How strong do you think your bones are? Are you at risk for osteoporosis? You would never know unless they are screened. Screening for the silent brittle bone disease of osteoporosis is an important method for finding and diagnosing this condition.  The screening test is called a bone density test and is used to discover osteoporosis or the beginnings of it. This test helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. 

Osteoporosis is a disease weakening your bones increasing the risk for a fracture. By the time this disease is discovered, most people have had it for years without knowing it, unless they break a bone. A bone density test is necessary for diagnosing osteoporosis and for having a plan on slowing or possibly reversing its progression.

What can a bone density test do?

A bone density test tells you if you have normal bone density, low bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. It is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis. The lower your bone density, the greater your risk will be of breaking a bone. A bone density test can help you and your healthcare provider:

·      Learn if you have weak bones or osteoporosis before you break a bone

·      Predict your chance of breaking a bone in the future

·      See if your bone density is improving, getting worse or staying the same

·      Find out how well an osteoporosis medicine is working

·      Let you know if you have osteoporosis after you break a bone

At what age should bone density screening begin?

It is important for both men and women to get a bone density test before they have a fracture.  The general guidelines for a woman are to begin bone density testing at age 65. But, if you are a postmenopausal woman who has several risk factors for bone loss, screening may need to start earlier.  For example, if a woman answers yes to at least two of the questions below, she should seek the advice of her primary care physician on when to begin bone density testing:

·      Are you a postmenopausal woman age 50 and older?

·      Have you recently broken a bone?

·      Are you a small-framed, thin woman?

·      Do you smoke?

·      Do you have a family history of osteoporosis? Did your grandmother, mother or sister have it?

Many women enter menopause with low bone mass to begin with.  There’s even a subset of women that can lose up to 5 percent of their bone mass every year for six years.

For men, the guidelines for beginning bone density testing are to start at age 70, unless there are additional risk factors, in which case it should be conducted at age 50.

Other factors to consider as to whom and when a bone density test is necessary are the following:

·      An X-ray of your spine shows a break or bone loss in your spine

·      Back pain with a possible break in your spine

·      Height loss of ½ inch or more within one year

·      Total height loss of 1 ½ inches from your original height

What happens during a bone density test?

A bone density test is one of the easiest screening procedures for a major disease. This painless procedure only takes about 5 to 10 minutes.  You simply lie on a table while a beam sends an X-ray through your skeleton – the hip and spine – and the amount of X-ray that gets through the bone and is detected on the other side is proportional to the amount of calcium in the bone. This procedure is very low dose radiation – it’s about one-tenth the amount of a chest X-ray.

How often should a bone density test be repeated?

Anyone taking an osteoporosis medicine should repeat their bone density test every 1-2 years. After starting a new osteoporosis medicine, many healthcare providers will repeat a bone density test after one year.

Both men and women should discuss with their primary care physician, the health of their bones and when to begin bone density testing.