What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis causes bones to
become thin and brittle, making them more likely to break. Bones naturally
become thinner as you grow older. Old bone dissolves and is absorbed into the
body faster than new bone is made. As this occurs, the bones lose minerals
calcium), heaviness (mass), and structure, making them
weaker. The thicker your bones are, the longer it takes to develop
What is the DEXA bone density test?
DEXA bone density test measures bone thickness. This
test can help predict your chances of having a broken bone due to osteoporosis.
There are no known risks associated with having the DEXA bone density
The decision to test your bone thickness is based on your
risks for osteoporosis, such as your age and family history, being a
postmenopausal woman, or smoking. The outcome of the bone density test may
indicate that you need treatment for osteoporosis.
What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?
main risk factor for osteoporosis is being a woman who has gone through
menopause. But not all postmenopausal women are at
risk. Many factors that influence your risk cannot be changed, such as family
history. Other risks can be modified, such as stopping smoking. If you can
reduce your risk for osteoporosis, you may not need to take the bone density
test at this time. Review the following lists to see if you can reduce your
risk for osteoporosis.
Risk factors you cannot change include:
- Being a woman who has gone through menopause.
Women who went through early menopause (before age 45) and did not take
hormone therapy have the greatest
- Having a family history (mother, father, or sibling) of
osteoporosis. It is possible your relative may not have been diagnosed. A
relative who had unexplained or easily broken bones may have had undiagnosed
- Being of European or Asian ancestry.
Having a medical condition such as
hyperthyroidism or another condition that makes the
body unable to absorb enough calcium.
- Having surgery to remove your
ovaries before menopause.
- Having a small
frame. People with small frames are more likely to develop osteoporosis,
because they have smaller bones and less bone mass.
Risk factors you can modify include:
- Lifestyle and environmental factors such as:
- Excessive use of
- Getting little or no weight-bearing
- A diet low in foods containing
corticosteroids for 6 months or longer (but you may
not be able to stop taking corticosteroids depending on why you are taking
Who should get a bone density test?
Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women age 65 and older routinely
have bone density testing. Also, the task force recommends that routine
screening begin at age 60 for women at increased risk for fractures caused by
osteoporosis.1 If you are younger than 65 and do not
have any risk factors of osteoporosis, you may not need a bone density
If you are younger than 60 and have one or more risk factors
for osteoporosis, you may want to consider whether a bone density test is right
for you. It is possible to reduce your risk for broken bones and other effects
of osteoporosis with treatment and lifestyle changes.
If you have
a low trauma fracture, you may want to have a bone density test. Low trauma
means that you broke a bone doing something that would not normally cause a
broken bone. This includes normal daily activities or a simple fall.
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis and start treatment, you may want
to have follow-up bone mineral density tests to see how well the treatment is
working. You usually get these follow-up tests no more often than every 2
years.2 But getting follow-up tests does not make your
treatment work better.3
What to expect if you DO get a bone density test
If you have risk factors for osteoporosis and choose to get the bone
density test, the results may indicate whether you need treatment. Treatment
can help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.
What to expect if you do NOT get a bone density test
A bone density test is not generally useful if you are under age 65 and
do not have risk factors for osteoporosis. But if you are very concerned or
afraid about getting osteoporosis, talk to your health professional about
lifestyle changes you can make to keep your bones strong.
If you do
not have risk factors for osteoporosis and are living a lifestyle that is
consistent with maintaining strong bones (doing weight-bearing exercises,
getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and not smoking), the bone density test
is not recommended until age 65.
If you do have risk factors but
you are living a healthy lifestyle and getting enough calcium and vitamin D and
are not willing to take medications, the bone density test may be unnecessary
as it would not change what you are doing now to maintain strong bones.
For more information, see the topic