When most of us think of the "brittle bone disease" known as osteoporosis, we picture a frail older woman with a broken hip or stooped shoulders. But you can't tell if someone has osteoporosis just by looking at them. Doctors need to review your personal and family history, your habits, as well as a bone density test to find your personal risk.
"It could be an elderly lady, a man, or a younger woman who is fine, but is 5 feet tall and weighs 93 pounds," says Ethel S. Siris, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
If you're nearing age 60 and have back pain, don't assume it's a normal part of getting older. You could be affected by a spinal compression fracture.
Back aches and pains can be a sign that small fractures are occurring in your vertebrae - the bones that form your spine. Soft, weakened bones are at the heart of this problem. Compression fractures are often caused by bone-thinning osteoporosis, especially if you are a postmenopausal woman over age 50.
When bones are brittle, everyday activities...
"When an older woman or man has a fracture, we must see if they have low bone mass or osteoporosis," says Siris. This is the biggest red-flag warning that more fractures can follow.
When Do You Need a Bone Density Test?
A bone density test can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends this X-ray for:
All women 65 and older
Younger women who have risk factors for osteoporosis
Men 70 and older
Men 50-69 with risk factors for osteoporosis
Some doctors use the FRAX formula (Fracture Risk Assessment Tool) to estimate your chance of breaking a bone within the next 10 years. It adds up past fractures, gender, smoking, alcohol use, and sometimes bone density test results in the hip, as well as other factors.