Screening for Osteoporosis

Contributed by: Shazia Chaudhry, MD

Millions of people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone density.  The “silent disease” can occur in men and women of any age, but is more common in women because of smaller, thinner bones and menopause.

Because each woman’s body is different, knowing when the right time to get screened for osteoporosis can be difficult for women to determine on their own. Age, body size, ethnicity, family history, hormone levels, medication use, and lifestyle habits are all risk factors that should be considered when determining the medical necessity of osteoporosis screening.

Recently, researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that too many women who need a DXA scan (measurement of bone mineral density) aren’t getting it. The study found over the past seven years, more than 42 percent of eligible women – those with risk factors and age 65 and older – were not screened. However, nearly 46 percent of low-risk women – no risk factors and younger than age 65, were screened. As a physician, I don’t recommend DXA scans for younger women who are risk-free. If you’re younger than 65 and have one or more risk factors for developing osteoporosis, we would then take the proper steps to determine if a bone density test is needed.

Osteoporosis and Perimenopause

When a woman begins perimenopause – years leading up to menopause – the body starts making less estrogen. Decreasing estrogen levels can contribute to bone loss and can naturally start decreasing for women around age 30. Women can lose 0.5 to six percent of their bone mass per year during perimenopause, increasing their risk of osteoporosis. Because of the potential loss of bone mass, it’s important for women experiencing perimenopause to talk with their doctor about their risk of developing osteoporosis. Pregnant or breastfeeding women or those who have had their ovaries removed are also at greater risk and should talk to their doctor.

Preventive Measures You Can Take Now

Fractures don’t have to happen if you take preventive measures now to protect yourself from osteoporosis.  Here’s what I recommend:

  • Get enough calcium (at least 1,200 mg every day) and Vitamin D
  • Eat well-balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly using weight bearing and resistance training
  • Don’t smoke
  • Visit your primary care provider for regular check-ups
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