Healthy Living

Know Your Risk for Bone Fractures

Know Your Risk for Bone Fractures

Key Takeaways

  • Bone density tests are administered to determine an individual's risk of fracturing bones.
  • Women who are experiencing menopause are likely to have weak bones, and should receive a bone density test.
  • Other medical conditions can cause low bone mass, including as arthritis.

Have you ever received a bone density test? This test is crucial for women who are experiencing menopause, as it tests how thin and frail their bones are. One might be prescribed medications to help this condition.

“Bone density tests are good indicators for the risks of fractures”, says Felicia Cosman, MD, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation in Washington, and a New York physician. It is very important to reduce the risk of fractures, as fractures can become more serious as an individual grows older. Fractures can lead to hospitalization, and even loss of mobility.

Some of the factors that can increase your risk for low bone mass, or osteoporosis, include the following:

  • Family history
  • Having a small frame
  • Medical conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Medications, like corticosteroids
  • Lifestyle

Although many women are aware that bone density tests exist, they are commonly unsure when or why they need to receive them. The National Osteoporosis Foundation, as well as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, recommends that all women above the age of 65-years-old, and men over the age of 50-years-old, should get a bone density test. They also suggest that younger women who have developed menopause early in life are more susceptible to osteoporosis, and should receive a bone density test.

Many physicians suggest that all average, healthy women should receive the test when they enter menopause. This is significant because bone loss increases considerably, after menopause. All women should have a baseline idea about their bone health in the beginning of menopause to keep as a comparative scale.

Women who are taking high-dose corticosteroid medications to treat autoimmune disorders and women who are having thyroid diseases should consider taking a bone density test, as they are more likely to have lower bone density, when compared to others who do not have these conditions.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) is the most common method to measure bone density. DEXA measures the bone mass in the spine, hip, or the entire body. Bone density tests are non-invasive tests, and do not require any injections. A scanner scans the entire body for 15 to 20 minutes to measure bone density, and it costs around $150. A typical bone density test differs from a regular bone test. Bone tests require a radioactive tracer to be injected into a vein, so the doctor can look for the presence of bone tumors or any other infections.

There are two scores in the bone density test: the T-score and the Z-score. A T-score measures bone mass, and is compared to someone with a peak bone mass. The Z-score is a measurement of the amount of bone an individual has, compared to someone who is of the same age. A T-score of -1 and higher is normal, while a score between -1 and -2.5 suggests that the individual may have osteopenia. Moreover, a score below that indicates that an individual has osteoporosis.

A negative reading in the Z-score shows that the bones are thin, when compared to other women of the same age. A positive Z-score indicates healthy bones. Be aware of negative Z-scores, as it may be an indication for an underlying medical condition, or a deficiency of vitamin D.

Although this test is a crucial indicator of thin bones and risk for fractures, it is not foolproof. Recent studies that have been conducted revealed that a person’s bone structure also determines the risk of fracture. The results in a DEXA may not be accurate if a person is shorter or taller than the average. The test may underestimate the risk when the person is shorter, or it may overestimate the risk if the person taller.

Depending on the bone density scores, the doctor may suggest medications or lifestyle changes, or the consumption of vitamin D and calcium. Follow up testing may be required after five years.