Doesn’t it seem that lately doctors have increased their recommendation for medical tests? Well, there’s a good and bad to this story. I always believed it’s better to be safe than sorry. A doctor with good diagnostic skills will also suggest taking additional tests to detect unseen medical problems. Of course there’s always a few who like to add revenue to their bottom line.
But for the most part screening tests are important medical tools. Starting in your 30s, your doctor will begin checking your cholesterol levels regularly. Then in your 40s, if you’re a woman, your doctor will recommend regular mammograms. And if your man into your 40s, I’m sure your have a routine prostate check up. And when you reach your 50’s, your doctor will start keeping a closer eye on the health of your colon.
There are many tests done to ensure you stay healthy but have you had your bone density checked lately? If you are 65 or over, a test of your bone density is also important. It can help you recognize a problem with your bones early on, and that can help you take steps to keep your bones strong.
A Simple, Painless Test
When taking a bone density measurement, you doctor will use x-rays to measure the mineral density of a segment of bone. The doctor looks to see if enough calcium and other minerals are in that segment of bone to ensure strong, healthy bones.
Usually a bone density test 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 for a bone density test.
The test is fast and easy. You don’t have do anything to prepare for it. And the test is completely painless. In fact, it has become common for pharmacies and health fairs to offer bone density screening. In other words, there’s no reason not to have your bone density checked.
When you complete a bone density test, your doctor (or the person doing the test) will give you your results 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, then your bones are beginning to thin and you are at risk of osteoporosis. A score lower than -2.5 indicates that you already have osteoporosis.
When You Should Have an Early Bone Density Test
The standard guideline for when to get your first bone density test is age 65. However, there are circumstances in which I recommend that you get a bone density test at age 60 or even earlier. This is when you have known risk factors for osteoporosis.
Early intervention—often through diet and exercise—can help slow down or even prevent bone loss. Early detection of osteoporosis is also important—knowing your condition will make it easier for you to take steps to prevent fractures.
If you have any of the following risk factors, please get an early bone density test:
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Personal history of fractures
- A body weight under 127 pounds
- Early menopause
- Thyriod disease requiring treatment with synthroid or other thyroid replacement hormones.
- Rheumatoid arthritis requiring treatment with glucocorticoid drugs.
Osteoporosis can be a potentially devastating, even life-threatening disease. By getting a bone density test at the right time, you help make sure your bones stay healthy and strong for a lifetime.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Picture Credit: faulknerhospital.org