Bone density tests and preventing osteoporosis

Posted on 3 January 2013

In our previous post on osteoporosis we looked at those who could be at risk of developing the disease. Here, our experts explain what to expect when having a bone density test as well as lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk.

My family has a history of osteoporosis. Should I have a bone density test although I am only in my 30s?
The good news is that someone who has all the risk factors may never develop osteoporosis, but knowing that you are at risk helps. Early prevention and treatment can make an enormous difference to your quality of life later. I would certainly recommend a bone density test. But it is not only those who have a family history who should consider being tested.

What causes it?
Osteoporosis may be hereditary, which is why it is good that you are aware of your family medical history, especially that of your mother.  But in some cases other diseases or disorders, particularly eating disorders, medication, drugs or treatment can have an impact on bone loss.  Some HIV/Aids sufferers have also been known to develop osteoporosis due to acute weight loss and levels of anti-viral therapy. Most cases however, are caused by poor lifestyle, lack of exercise and a diet that’s deficient in vitamin D and calcium in particular.
Whatever your history, if you are worried that you may be at risk, chat to your GP.

What can I do about it?
1.    Get tested – you can’t treat what you don’t know you have. Ask your general practitioner or gynaecologist if and when you should have a bone density scan. There are several ways to measure your bone density, but one of the most effective is the DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) low-level radiation scan. It will pick up not only osteoporosis, which is when you have significant loss of bone density and are at risk of fracture, but also osteopaenia, which is some loss of bone mineral density. A proper diagnosis will also look at your detailed history, and take into account your age, weight, gender, lifestyle, medical background and so on.

What happens during a bone density test?
• On the day of the test you can eat normally, but don’t take any calcium supplements.
• For the test itself you will lie on a table while an imaging device passes over you, scanning the spine and hips, which reflect the condition of the two main bone types in the body.
• Follow-up tests may be recommended to monitor progression.

2.    A healthy lifestyle is step one in prevention. You want to exercise regularly. Find something you like, whether it’s walking, dancing, cycling or going to the gym. Stub out cigarettes, cut alcohol consumption right down and eat healthily. Your bones will reflect what you eat.

What do I need to include in my diet for bone strength?
The key ingredients for bone health are:
• Calcium, which is found in cheese, yoghurt, beans, tofu, oats, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds and almonds.
• Vitamin D, which helps the absorption of calcium, is found in milk, egg yolk and fish (tuna, salmon and sardines top the list). Vitamin D is also created when the skin is exposed to sunlight. If you want to know more, chat to your doctor about the recommended daily intakes according to age and risk factor. And, parents, you can prevent osteoporosis in your child’s life by feeding them a good diet from day one, when good strong bone development starts.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Orthopaedics

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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3 Responses to “Bone density tests and preventing osteoporosis”

  1. […] who are postmenopausal, are over 65, or who have a low oestrogen level are particularly at risk. A bone mineral density test can ascertain the amount of mineral present in your bone […]

  2. Michael Goldman says:

    What is the cost of a bone density test?

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