What in the World Is a Bone Density Scan — And Do I Need One?

Mam­mo­grams, pap smears, and colono­scopies may all be com­mon health screen­ings that you have heard of before. These screen­ings are all a part of stay­ing healthy and informed about dif­fer­ent health risks, but they aren’t the only screen­ings you should get.

One test you may be less famil­iar with is the bone den­si­ty scan.

Your bones help you accom­plish day-to-day tasks — every­thing from sit­ting to stand­ing to walk­ing is made pos­si­ble by your skele­ton. While you may not be able to see them, bones play a big role in your over­all health. Tak­ing care of your bones as you age is key to stay­ing healthy and being able to do the activ­i­ties that you enjoy.

Here are 3 rea­sons get­ting a bone den­si­ty test is an impor­tant part of your rou­tine health­care as you age. 

1. To Know If You Have Osteo­poro­sis or Osteopenia

A bone den­si­ty scan can tell you a lot about your body, bones, and poten­tial health con­cerns. Just like an x‑ray can show you if you’ve bro­ken your arm, a bone den­si­ty scan can show you some­thing about your bones that you can’t see with just your eyes.

Bone den­si­ty exams are used to fig­ure out how much cal­ci­um and min­er­als are in your bones. This tells you and your provider how strong and sol­id your bones are. 

Over time, patients will lose some of the den­si­ty and mass in their bones, and this is nor­mal as peo­ple age. DEXA or bone den­si­ty scans eval­u­ate your bone min­er­al den­si­ty by com­par­ing your bone min­er­al den­si­ty to that of younger patients. Bone min­er­al den­si­ty is mea­sured at the spine and hip and some­times the fore­arm and cal­cu­lat­ed as a T‑score.

So, do you actu­al­ly need one? 

If you are a woman over the age of 65 or a man over the age of 70, the sim­ple answer is yes. We rec­om­mend that any woman over the age of 65 or man over the age of 70 sched­ule a bone den­si­ty scan as a part of your rou­tine health­care screen­ings. Bone den­si­ty scans are also rec­om­mend­ed in any­one who has bro­ken (frac­tured) a bone after the age of 50 or women or men over the age of 50 who have risk fac­tors for osteoporosis. 

Just like you get your first pap smear at age 21 or your first mam­mo­gram around age 40 to 45, get­ting a bone den­si­ty scan is just anoth­er part of get­ting old­er and tak­ing care of your body as you age. 

If you feel you may need a bone den­si­ty scan, talk with your pri­ma­ry care provider.

2. To Learn Some­thing About Your Fam­i­ly Med­ical History 

Many health con­di­tions tend to run in fam­i­lies. Just like you might inher­it brown eyes or freck­les from your fam­i­ly, osteo­poro­sis also has a genet­ic com­po­nent that can be passed down.

When you get a bone den­si­ty scan, you can learn whether you have osteo­poro­sis, which can be good infor­ma­tion to share with your fam­i­ly. If you have a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of osteo­poro­sis, your Duly provider may rec­om­mend you get a bone den­si­ty test ear­li­er than 65 years old. By learn­ing about your own med­ical his­to­ry, you can con­tribute new infor­ma­tion to your family’s med­ical history.

Your chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, and younger sib­lings can all ben­e­fit from your bone den­si­ty test.

3. To Pro­tect Your Bones As You Age and Pre­vent Injuries 

Osteo­poro­sis makes your bones frail and prone to frac­tur­ing or break­ing — mak­ing fall pre­ven­tion even more impor­tant. For some, a fall may just be an incon­ve­nience or lead to a bump or bruise. For oth­ers with osteo­poro­sis, even a small fall can lead to a big injury like a bro­ken hip or frac­tured bone.

A bone den­si­ty scan can help you gauge the health of your bones and whether you should take any addi­tion­al pre­cau­tions around your home to pre­vent falls. 

You can pre­vent falls in your or a loved one’s home by: 

  • Cre­at­ing clear path­ways between rooms 
  • Clean­ing up clut­ter on the floor like pow­er cords, clothes, or oth­er items
  • Putting com­mon­ly used items on low­er shelves 
  • Installing handrails on stair­cas­es and in the shower 
  • Mak­ing sure there is good light­ing to see by — espe­cial­ly at night 

Mak­ing Bone Health a Life­long Priority 

As you get old­er, you may notice dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal changes to your body, such as a cou­ple more gray hairs on your head or wrin­kles on your face. Your bones also change as you get old­er so it’s impor­tant to take the nec­es­sary steps to keep them healthy. Even if you can’t see them, your bones play a big role in your well­ness. Talk to your Duly provider about how to keep your bones healthy at any stage in your life.

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  • I am compassionate, caring physician who will treat you as a partner while striving to determine and implement the best course of action for your medical needs. I will listen to your medical history and examine you carefully to determine next steps for diagnosis and treatment. My goal is to optimize your overall health and well being.