What you need to know about bone mass density tests

Bone mass density tests are one of the easiest preventive tests you can have.

Recently, I had my first bone mass density test (BMD). For the patient, it’s about the easiest medical test you can have performed at the hospital. In my experience, there was no discomfort, and the procedure didn’t take very long. The exam consists of lying on a table while an overhead x-ray machine wands over you. For individuals with osteoporosis, arthritis or joint pain there may be some discomfort associated with lying flat or getting into position on the exam table.

Bone mass density tests are commonly used as a preventative screening for osteoporosis. BMD scans help determine the amount (density) and the mineral (calcium) in the bone. Bones need calcium. Calcium strengthens bones which lead to better bone health.

Reasons your doctor might recommend a BMD test
  • Age – Bone mass starts to weaken as we age. It is routine for individuals over the age of 65 to have a bone density test. Other age indicators may include the frequency of broken bones.
  • Sex – Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis then men.
  • Race – Caucasian and Asian ethnicities are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • Family History – To some degree Bone health risks are reflected in family history. If a parent had osteoporosis it may put you at a greater risk.
  • Body structure – Smaller framed body types are at a slightly higher risk due to lower bone mass.
  • Hormone level – After menopause when hormone levels rapidly decline, bones may become weak.
How to improve bone health

The CDC bone health guide includes the following tips to improve bone health and strength:

  • Under your doctor’s care, take medications to strengthen your bones and avoid medications that can make your bones weaker.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Perform weight-bearing exercises regularly.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
Follow-up to your BMD test

Your healthcare provider can discuss the outcome of your BMD test. Other questions for your doctor may include:

  • Should you be taking a calcium supplement?
  • Should you make changes to your diet?
  • Is exercising safe?
  • How often will you require a bone mass density test?

According to Office of the Surgeon General’s report on bone health and osteoporosis, by focusing on prevention and lifestyle changes, including physical activity and nutrition, as well as early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, Americans can avoid much of the damaging impact of bone disease and other chronic diseases. Visit Michigan State University Extension for more information on chronic disease prevention, physical activity and nutrition.

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