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Strong bones are fundamental to quality of life, especially as we age. Having a bone density test is the best way to determine the condition of your bones. The test, which is known as a DEXA scan, is a type of X-ray. While the test itself has minimal disadvantages, the drugs to treat bone loss are somewhat over-prescribed by medical doctors and they carry some severe side effects. If you’re at risk for any brittle bone diseases, taking osteoporosis supplements is a good way to support your bone strength. Many people at risk for low bone density often have joint problems too, which can cause added misery and discomfort.
Here are the top reasons why you should—or shouldn’t—consider getting a bone density test.
Many people break bones from car accidents, falls and other types of trauma. That’s fairly normal. What isn’t normal is when someone steps off a sidewalk and their leg breaks, or they sustain what’s called a “fragility fracture.” These are fractures caused by coughing or sneezing, bending to pick up something, or lifting a fairly light weight. A trip or stumble from walking speed that causes a broken bone also qualify as fragility fractures, and these are almost always due to bone loss.
Genetics plays an important role in bone density, with an estimated 75% of an individual’s density influence by it. Having a family history of brittle bone diseases, particularly a hip fracture on the mother’s side, increases your risk of developing bone loss as you age. This risk is higher in patients descended from Caucasian or Asian women.
Both alcohol and smoking lower your immune defenses, so if you’re in any of the risk categories and also indulge in one or both of these activities, your chances of developing bone density issues are higher.
People with low body weight often have a lifelong low calcium intake, which contributes significantly to reduced bone density, bone loss and a higher risk of osteoporosis. They may also have experienced eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia in the past, both of which result in reduced nutrient absorption and weakening of the bones.
Using corticosteroids such as prednisone for anti-inflammatory purposes for anything more than three months can have a devastating effect on your bone density. If you’ve taken these medications in any form, whether by prescription or not, you could have weakened bones as a result of the product’s interference with the bone-building process. Anyone who has received an organ or bone marrow transplant is at an increased risk of osteoporosis, partly because anti-rejection drugs also interfere with the bone-rebuilding process.
Many women experience a drop in hormone levels after menopause, which is also the age at which osteoporosis becomes a concern. Certain cancer treatments also cause estrogen to drop, and some treatments for prostate cancer can lower the testosterone levels in men. All of these can have an impact on the strength and density of your bones.
Bone density tests are quick and painless, and are done using low levels of X-ray to measure your bone mineral density. You’ll be asked to lie on a table for a few minutes while your body is scanned by the equipment, which detects:
Knowing your bone condition enables you to identify any signs of bone loss or brittle bone diseases such as osteoporosis. This enables you to start treatment, which helps prevent fractures and the disability they can cause.
As simple as the bone density test is, patients should not have one unless they have good reason to suspect they are risk for bone disease. In addition to the obvious radiation risk that accompanies all forms of X-ray, many doctors over-prescribe treatments for mild bone loss.
Commonly prescribed drugs for bone regeneration can have side effects such as gastric problems, heartburn and difficulty swallowing. In some instances, patients develop pain in their bones, eyes, muscles and joints, and even more troubling is the risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, cracks in the femur, bone loss in the jaw, serious infections and heart rhythm problems.