While you may think of your bones as unchanging, they're actually constantly rebuilding themselves. Cells in your bones break down old bone tissue and use it as building blocks to create new bone.
If the bone is broken down more quickly than new bone can be created, it causes your bones to become less dense. This is a condition called osteoporosis, and it makes your bones more likely to fracture, even from minor falls and other accidents.
People often don't know they have osteoporosis, since it causes no other symptoms other than making your bones more prone to fracturing. One way that you can check the health of your bones is to undergo bone density testing, which is a quick and inexpensive procedure that can diagnose osteoporosis. To learn more about bone density testing and how to know if you need it, read on.
What Is Bone Density Testing?
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is the test that's used to diagnose osteoporosis by measuring the density of your bones. X-rays travel more slowly through bones compared to soft tissues like your skin and your organs, which is what makes it possible to create images of your bones using an X-ray machine. When you have osteoporosis and your bones are less dense, however, X-rays will pass through them more quickly.
A DXA scan measures how fast X-rays travel through your bones and uses this information to calculate how dense they are. You'll receive a T-score as the result of a DXA scan, which is a measurement of how dense your bones are compared to the bones of a young, healthy person. A low T-score means that your bones are much less dense than normal, which is an indicator that you have osteoporosis.
Who Should Undergo Bone Density Testing?
Seniors should strongly consider bone density testing to check for osteoporosis, as bones naturally begin regenerating more slowly due to age. People with risk factors for osteoporosis should also consider bone density testing, regardless of age. Risk factors like anorexia, heavy alcohol use, hyperthyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis can cause your bones to regenerate more slowly, increasing your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Some medications also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, such as corticosteroids. These are commonly prescribed long-term for treating autoimmune disorders. If you've been on corticosteroids for a long period of time, you may want to get a DXA scan to check the health of your bones.
DXA scans are inexpensive and very quick. The procedure is similar to getting an X-ray, but much less radiation is used during the procedure because it only measures a tiny sample of your bone instead of taking an image of an entire bone. Osteoporosis can have dire consequences, as fracturing a major bone like your hip or femur can immobilize you.
If you have any concerns about your bone health due to your age, medical conditions, or medications that you're taking, it's worth undergoing bone density testing to make sure that your bones are healthy. If you have osteoporosis or are starting to develop it, you can begin treatment with medication and dietary supplements to reduce your risk of a major fracture.