It may seem like every time you visit your doctor he recommends another test or screening. You may wonder why since you are not having any noticeable problems. As a doctor who has treated hundreds of bone injuries over the years, there is one test I highly urge you to consider and that is bone density.
There was a time when a broken bone was the only clue doctor’s had that a person’s bones had become more fragile and at that point it was too late to do anything about it. Luckily medical science has progressed over the years so today we can easily screen for osteoporosis and low bone mass.
Out of 44 million Americans affected by bone loss, 10 million have osteoporosis, and the remaining 34 million have a lower than normal bone mass. Women are particularly more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Other risk factors that play into bone loss are age, family history, small body frame, inactive life style, alcohol, and use of certain medications. Given all the variables, you can see why it is so important to get a bone mineral density evaluation (BMD) as part of your physical exam every two to three years.
The truth is that everyone is subject to bone loss in their lifetime. In early adulthood a person’s bone mass is at its peak but it gradually declines with age. Within the first six years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20% of her total bone mass. Men are at risk too especially if they have certain illnesses, low testosterone, smoke, or are sedentary.
Along with aging and change of normal hormones, osteoporosis is commonly the result of diets low in calcium and vitamin D. Without getting too technical, let me just say that your bones become thinner and weaker leaving you vulnerable to fractures and breaks. This is why we see so many elderly people with hip fractures and other weight supported broken bones.
A Simple and Painless Test
When taking a bone density measurement, your doctor will use x-rays to measure the mineral density of a segment of bone. Bone density testing has become one of the best ways of diagnosing osteoporosis and is fairly accurate in determining your risk for fracture. The purpose of the test is to see if enough calcium and other minerals are in a segment of bone to ensure that they are strong and healthy.
Usually an x-ray is taken of the bones that are most likely to become thin and break easily. The lumbar vertebrae of the lower spine, the upper section of the femur, and the bones of the forearm and wrist are the most common places to be x-rayed.
The test is fast and easy. You don’t have to do anything to prepare for it and it is completely painless. In fact, many pharmacies and health fairs offer bone density screening along with other tests such as cholesterol. So there is really no reason not to have your bone density checked.
The results of your bone density test will be given to you in the form of a T-score. If your T-score is above -1 then your bones are normal, healthy, and strong. If your score is between -1 and -2.5, your bones are beginning to thin and you are at risk of osteoporosis. If your score lower than -2.5 it is an indication that you already have osteoporosis.
Take the Right Steps to Strengthen Your Bones
The medical profession has come a long way when it comes to prevention of many diseases and osteoporosis is only one of them. Building strong bones early in life before the age of 30 is the best defense against developing bone loss later in life. A healthy lifestyle is also of utmost importance. Learning to prevent osteoporosis is critical because once you have it there is no cure.
There are several key things you can do to prevent osteoporosis and give your bones the care they deserve.
• Calcium is needed for your heart, muscles and nerves to function and for blood to clot. When calcium is lacking it contributes to the development of osteoporosis so make sure you get your recommended amounts either in foods or supplement form. Adults under age 50 need 1,000 mg and those over 50 need 1,200 mg.
• Vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium so without enough you cannot get the calcium you need from the foods you eat. When this happens your body takes the calcium from your bones. Vitamin D comes from direct exposure to sunlight and from your diet. Adults under age 50 need 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily, and adults over age 50 need 800 – 1,000 IU daily.
• Exercise is a must in maintaining bone strength. The best type is weight-bearing such as walking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, racquet sports and hiking.
• Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol.
• Schedule a bone mineral density test (BMD) and take medication as prescribed by your doctor if you are diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Although Osteoporosis is not curable you can easily find out if you are at risk by taking a simple test. There are several medications available now that help combat bone loss and in some cases may even help prevent further deterioration. With proper care and maintenance your bones will be strong and healthy throughout your entire life.