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Bone Density Testing: Why It's Important for Women's Health

Johnson Memorial Health on Apr 14, 2015

Johnson Memorial offers bone density testing to detect the risk of osteoporosis. Women are at risk of developing osteoporosis.


People used to think that osteoporosis was an inevitable part of aging. Today, we know a lot more about how to prevent, detect and treat the disease. You are never too young or too old to take care of your bones.

Good lifestyle habits can help you protect your bones and decrease your chance of getting osteoporosis. If your healthcare provider has not talked to you about your bone health, it’s time for you to bring it up! 

Early detection is one of the best ways to prevent the debilitating effects of osteoporosis.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common skeletal disorder affecting many women and even some men. It is a condition where bones can become weak and can break easily. These fractures can be debilitating and can result in the loss of mobility. Many people do not know they have osteoporosis until a fracture occurs. A bone density test can help determine your risk for these types of fractures. 

What is a Bone Density Test?

A bone density test is called a DXA or DEXA scan. A bone density test uses a small amount of x-ray to measure the amount of mineral in the bones. It does this by focusing the x-ray on an area of the body and measuring the proportion of light rays that pass through the tissue as opposed to being blocked by minerals in the bone. Using computer software, it then divides that number by the surface area of the bone being measured to create bone mineral density. The result determines your T-score or Z-score. A T-score compares bone density to what is normal in a 30-year-old adult. A Z-score is used for adults 50 and over.

  • A Z-score above -2.0 is considered normal.
  • A Z-score below -2.0 is abnormal and may result in a diagnosis of osteoporosis. Your doctor will want to discuss possible causes, secondary causes and health history.
  • If your Z-score is considered normal, but you've broken bones as a result of a minor injury, you may be diagnosed with osteoporosis because some people with normal bone density break bones easily. A person with a normal Z-score may have an abnormal T-score since everyone loses bone density as they age. 

There are some limitations to a bone density test. Besides the margin of error within the machine, a bone density that is low for some women, may be normal for others depending on family history and other circumstances. In an ideal world,  you would need to know your bone density at age 30 and then compare it to a reading 30 years later from the same machine. 

Who Should Get a Bone Density Test?

Most women should get their first bone density test at the age of 65 and every two years after that. There are certain conditions that may warrant an earlier test. Osteoporosis can affect people at any age, so it's important to discuss the risk factors with your doctor. Some risk factors include

  • Caucasian or Asian ethnicity
  • elderly people
  • women during and after menopause
  • men with low testosterone
  • small boned and thin people
  • smokers
  • alcohol users
  • inactive people
  • people with diets low in calcium and vitamin D
  • people taking certain medications
  • people with certain medical conditions
  • those with a family history of osteoporosis

Regardless of age, your doctor may recommend a bone density test if you have lost height, broken a bone, taken certain medications, received a transplant or had a drop in hormone levels. 

How Can I Prevent Weak Bones?

Weak bones don’t usually cause symptoms and screening tests such a bone density tests are among the few clues a woman has to know if her bones are healthy. Bone density test results are most meaningful when part of an overall bone health picture. Most important, there’s a lot you can do to strengthen your bones no matter what your current bone density.

  • Get enough calcium. Bones contain calcium and eating calcium-rich foods can help keep your bones strong. Some foods containing calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, broccoli and spinach.
  • Get enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium from the food you eat. Some vitamin D rich foods include fish, tuna, milk and eggs. 
  • Eat a healthy diet. Healthy foods have nutrients that can build strong bones.
  • Exercise. Being active slows bone loss, builds muscle and helps your balance. Talk to your doctor about exercises that are appropriate for you.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increased the risk of osteoporosis. It weakens your bones and lowers estrogen levels. Estrogen is a hormone in your body that slows bone loss.
  • Use alcohol in moderation. Alcohol can make it harder for your body to absorb the calcium from food. Too much alcohol at one time can lead to imbalance and falls. 
  • Medications. Talk to your doctor about medications that can help reduce bone loss.

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Topics: Wellness, Johnson County Moms, Imaging