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Osteoporosis is a condition found in women after menopause and in some men. It involves a gradual loss of calcium from the bones, causing them to become thinner, and more likely to break.

Bone mineral density screening can help identify patients at risk for developing osteoporosis, so therapy can be started to prevent further bone loss and limit risk of devastating injury.

The bone density scan is painless, uses low doses of radiation, and lasts between 10-30 minutes depending on the area being scanned. The most commonly scanned areas are the lower back, hip and forearm. Your bone density is compared to a normal bone density. This is called the T-score. The T-score will inform the doctor if your bone mass is in normal range or if there are any changes to suggest osteoporosis.

Screening for Osteoporosis

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women receive bone mineral density (BMD) screening beginning at age 65. Postmenopausal women younger than age 65 should be screened only if they have significant risk factors for osteoporosis or bone fracture, or a history of stress fracture.
  • Current practice recommends BMD retesting every 2 years. However, some research suggests that certain women may be able to wait a much longer time between their screening tests, perhaps as long as 5 to 15 years. Discuss with your doctor how often you should be tested.

Quick Facts About Osteoporosis

  • 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 5 men over 50 will experience fractures resulting from osteoporosis
  • 85% of wrist fractures occur in women
  • The combined lifetime risk for hip, forearm and vertebral fractures coming to clinical attention is around 40%, equivalent to the risk for cardiovascular disease
  • In white women, the lifetime risk of hip fracture is 1 in 6, compared with a 1 in 9 risk of a diagnosis of breast cancer
  • In women over 45 osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than many other diseases, including diabetes, heart attack and breast cancer.
  • Hip fractures can kill you. Hip fractures have a reported morbidity rate up to 24% in the first year after a hip fracture and a greater risk of dying may persist for at least 5 years afterwards
  • 40% of hip fracture survivors are unable to walk independently and 60% will still require assistance one year later. Because of these losses, one third of those who suffer a hip fracture are totally dependent or in a nursing home in the year following a hip fracture.

If you think you may be at risk for osteoporosis, ask your doctor if a bone density measurement will be of value to you. Many women who are postmenopausal are at risk of osteoporosis.  The presence of any one of these factors can add to your risk: 

  •  Caucasian race or Asian ethnicity
  • Thin or small build
  • Family history of osteoporosis or osteoporotic fracture
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Smoking
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Chronic use of certain medications such as steroids, excessive thyroid hormone, and certain anticonvulsants
  • Excessive alcohol use