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Bone Density Testing is Critical for Most Women

Two scientists looking at samples under microscopes in a lab

Statistics reveal women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, a debilitating disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. After the age of thirty-five, women lose approximately one percent of their bone density. That percentage doubles or quadruples in some women. Unfortunately, loss of bone density leads directly to osteoporosis.

Because nearly 80 percent of those who develop osteoporosis are women, it is important that all women are aware of the steps necessary to slow or halt bone loss. Now available is a special x-ray that determines whether women are at risk for osteoporosis. The x-ray is fairly accurate and able to evaluate the density of the bone.

Osteoporosis means bones have lost a certain amount of density causing a much higher risk of fractures of the hip, spine, or wrist. Bones become brittle over time and that can place a woman at high risk for fractures.

Bone mass peaks around the age of thirty and then begins to decline. Typical at-risk women are those who are in their first couple of years after menopause when they lose more bone density than they gain. Also at risk are those who were at some risk before menopause, were on steroids for a long time due to illness, had no high level of estrogen for quite some time due to illness, athletes with low body fat leading to low estrogen levels, or women with anorexia leading to low estrogen levels.

A low radiation x-ray test is now available for at risk women. The x-ray tests the wrist, the lumbar spine, and the hipbone, and measures how many grams of calcium and other bone materials are packed into a bone segment. The x-ray looks at the strength and thickness of the bone. The more dense the bone, the less likely it will break.

A quick and easy bone density test is also available and can be done at a local pharmacy or Women’s Health Center for free or low cost. This test does not go into the depth of the x-ray, but is less expensive and allows a woman to know whether she should seek further tests.

According to Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine bone density testing for women age sixty-five or older, or sixty with increased risk of osteoporosis. It typically takes two or more years before a retest can show any significant changes.

Historically the only way to tell if a woman had osteoporosis was after a fracture. Now there are tests that reveal the density of the bone and alert women if they need to seek further care. Fractures due to loss of bone density are a serious health issue for postmenopausal women. According to recent statistics, there are 1.2 million fractures per year.

Of the 300,000 hip fractures, 20 percent will die within six months of the fracture, 5 percent placed in a long-term care facility, and 50 percent plagued with limited ability the rest of their life.

At-risk women should consider bone density screening earlier than menopausal age. Depending on the test results, they may need to improve their bone density. Typically, women can increase or at least reduce the speed of bone loss by including extra calcium in their diet, taking supplemental calcium, and exercising to strengthen their bones.

Weight bearing exercise plays a part in prevention of osteoporosis, especially if the woman is postmenopausal. Walking three times a week helps postpone bone loss.

Generally bone cannot be regenerated. The above steps can slow or prevent bone density loss, but cannot replace bone. Most women believe that if they are on hormone replacement therapy and calcium they will have no problem with osteoporosis. That is not the case; they must take action to slow the loss. As with any other health issue, early detection brings awareness and the ability to slow or prevent osteoporosis.

Tomah Health