Bone density scans are commonly performed to determine if you are at risk of developing osteoporosis. This is a condition in which bones become brittle and more susceptible to breaks. Prior to this advanced testing, the only way to identify osteoporosis was after a bone had been broken. By then, it is often too late to do anything to remedy the situation. With bone density scanning, it’s much easier to start treating your condition before it becomes a major problem.
How are Bone Density Scans Conducted?
Bone density scans are performed using X-rays to figure out the calcium levels and other essential bone minerals in a measured section of your bones, which are measured in grams. Usually, the areas of bone used as testing areas are from the hips, forearms and spine. The amount of these nutrients in the bone can accurately tell the doctor the density level of your bones. The lower the density, the higher the chances are of developing, or already having, osteoporosis.
Who is at Risk?
The natural process of aging causes a decrease in bone density over time. This is normal and happens to everyone. It’s when bone density levels start to reach lower levels than normal that risks of bone fractures can increase.
Women who are post-menopausal are the most at risk for developing osteoporosis. The reason for this is hormonal changes in the body that can affect the ability of the bones to absorb certain nutrients, including calcium. However, men can develop osteoporosis as well, especially if they smoke and/or drink. Living a sedentary lifestyle also decreases the levels of minerals that are essential to bone health, and can lead to osteoporosis. Generally, you are at risk of having low bone density if:
- Your hormone levels have dropped significantly, as in the case of post-menopausal women. Lower sex hormones in both men and women can weaken the bones. Cancer treatments also lower estrogen levels in women, and men with prostate cancer are also at risk from the treatments they receive, which may lower testosterone levels.
- Your height has decreased considerably. This may indicate that you have compression fractures in your spine, which is a symptom of osteoporosis.
- You are taking or have taken specific types of drugs like steroid medications such as prednisone. Drugs like this can limit the bone rebuilding process.
- You have received a bone marrow or organ transplant. Drugs that are given to reduce the risks of organ rejection can reduce the health of your bones.
If you have recently fractured a bone more easily than you expected, this might be an indication of osteoporosis. Bones affected by osteoporosis can be broken as easily as during sneezing, coughing or sudden movements.
It’s important to remember that although a bone density scan can tell if you have low bone density, it can’t help with identifying the reason for it. In order to diagnose osteoporosis properly, a complete health evaluation is necessary.