Because osteoporosis is often devoid of signs and symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage, it’s important for those who are at risk to be regularly evaluated and screened for the progressive condition. To properly diagnose osteoporosis, your doctor will start with a complete physical exam. Your doctor will also ask you several questions about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors. He or she will also perform a test to help diagnose osteoporosis.
Bone Mineral Density Test
People at risk for osteoporosis should talk to their primary care physicians about taking a bone mineral density (BMD) test. The test measures how much calcium and other minerals are in a sample section of your bone. It helps predict who is more vulnerable to fractures in the future. There are different noninvasive versions of bone mineral density tests, but the most common and best method is called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, which uses low-dose X-rays to get a picture of the bones in your lower spine, hip, and wrist while you lie still on a table. The DEXA scan is safe and uses only 10% of the radiation used to produce a regular xray.
Candidates for a bone mineral density test include women older than age 65 and men older than age 70; postmenopausal women with at least one risk factor for osteoporosis or who have recently stopped taking hormone replacement therapy; any man or women older than age 50 with a fracture; and those with significant height loss. It may be appropriate to screen younger women who have additional risk factors and symptoms that make the clinician suspicious for osteoporosis.
If your bone mineral density test shows that you have low bone density (a condition called osteopenia), your physician may assess your risk of breaking a bone with an algorithmic tool called FRAX. This tool can help estimate your chance of sustaining a fracture within the next 10 years. This will help the clinician to determine whether it is appropriate to begin treatment immediately.