7. Why would I have low bone density if I haven't gone through menopause?
Although the drop in estrogen levels during menopause can result in dramatically worsening osteoporosis, it isn't the sole cause of the disease. Many other factors -- like your genes, some diseases and treatments, eating disorders, and deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D -- can play an important role. Remember that men can get osteoporosis too, even though they don't go through menopause either.
8. What is a bone density test and what do the scores mean?
A bone mineral density test is the typical way of diagnosing osteoporosis and predicting your risk of fractures. It's a kind of X-ray that reveals the hardness of your bones. The most common type is called a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or sometimes called DXA). Usually, the scans look at the weight-bearing ability of your hip and spine, then uses this information to estimate your risk of fractures.
After the test, your doctor will work out your "T-score." This indicates how dense your bones are compared to those of younger, healthy women. Usually, a T-score defines your score as being above or below the norm.
A normal bone density is a T-score of plus one (+1) to a score of a minus one (-1). A low bone mass (osteopenia) is a bone density T-score of -1 to -2.5. Osteoporosis is defined as a bone density score of -2.5 or below.
9. Should men worry about osteoporosis -- and what are the signs of it in men?
Although osteoporosis is often thought of as a disease that only affects women, about 20% of cases are in men. But osteoporosis in men is often unrecognized and untreated. And since osteoporosis is a silent disease, the first symptom is often a broken bone.
Men who are at higher risk for osteoporosis should focus on prevention. Risk factors for osteoporosis in men include taking certain drugs (like steroids, anticonvulsants, and some cancer treatments), some chronic diseases, smoking, lack of exercise, low testosterone, and a family history of weak bones. If you think you might be at risk, talk to your doctor.