By definition bone density, or bone mineral density, represents the amount of mineral per square centimeter of the bone. This test is done by the use of low-dosage X-rays which penetrate the bone.
As they pass through the bone, the X-ray absorption will vary which will be interpreted by the computer and displayed as an image. The computer will then calculate the average values of density in specific region and compare them to the reference values (density of individuals with healthy bones).
Do You Need A Bone Density Test
Since bone mineral density testing is the preferred method for diagnosing osteoporosis, it is not something that should be taken lightly or performed without the prior consultation with your doctor.
This test is usually recommended for:
- Woman over 65
- Men over 70
- Women that have reached menopause with known cases of osteoporosis in the family
- Individuals that break a bone after the age of 50
- Individuals that lose more than 1.5 inches in height
- Individuals with medical conditions which affect bone density
- In some cases, individuals with a history of alcohol abuse or smoking
Reasons Opposing It
There are people, worried about their health, that do this test regularly, and even though checking yourself if often a good practice, it can turn out to be harmful in this particular case.
Even though the test involves X-rays, they will likely cause no health problems, but the test can uncover osteopenia – a condition where the bone density test results are lower than normal but still does not pose a health threat, in fact, people can have it for years with no symptoms or problems.
But if your doctor decides you should treat osteopenia, they may prescribe some drugs with problematic side effects which can cause blood clots, heart attack, stroke or infection.
Another reason opposing this test is the cost itself. If your insurance doesn`t cover it, expect to pay $200-$250, plus the drugs your doctor may prescribe you.
Note that I am not trying to talk you out of it, I just want you to think if you really need the test of not. Of course, always consult your doctor first!
T-score value is used to actually determine if the individual has normal, low or high bone density test values comparing them to T-score of a 30 year old individual in perfect health. Check out the table below to see the exact values:
Z-score is similar to T-score, but instead of being referenced with the “perfect” 30 year old individual, it is compared to average values of those individuals of your age. Even though Z-score can be useful to get some perspective and see where you are among other people your age, only T-score is used for diagnosis.
The Difference Between Osteoporosis and Low Bone Mass
We already touched on this matter previously, but now we are going to go into more details. Both of the conditions represent the loss of bone mass, but low bone mass (osteopenia) is not considered a disease.
There are cases where people had low bone mass but never developed osteoporosis and lived a long, happy life. But, if a person continues to lose bone mass over time, this will eventually lead to osteoporosis.
So, how do you tell these two apart? Well, you don`t, you cannot “feel” osteoporosis kicking in and weakening your bones, which is why I never advocate self-diagnosis; leave it to your doctor. If you find yourself in any of the “groups of high risk” we talked above, consult your doctor, do the bone density test and wait for the results.
How To Promote Stronger Bones?
Osteoporosis and bone fracture are so common these days that most people take them as normal parts of the aging process – but they are not! You can and need to fight them, and the first step in fighting them is strengthening your bones:
- Exercise – exercise and general physical activity is THE best thing you can do for your overall health. Of course, you need to tailor your exercising to your age and your overall fitness level, but make sure you get at least 30 minutes of daily activity. Walking is a good place to start
- Eat right – I know you probably hear this way too often, but a solid diet is a foundation of a healthy life. So make sure you eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and get enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Smoking and alcohol – I know I can`t just tell you to quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol, but I urge you to try and cut back at least, and then after you get some momentum, push yourself and you will make it
- Take better care of yourself – by this I mean try to eliminate “hazardous activities” which can cause you nasty falls, injuries and/or fractures
- Using supplements and meds – once again, you should never take these on your own; after proper examination your doctor might prescribe them to you, this is the right way to go