Bone Density Testing

Q. I am a 45-year-old woman and have never had a bone density test done. Is that something I should have done before menopause, or should I wait until I am in the middle of menopause, or wait until I am done? Or do I need one at all?

A. The current recommendation for bone density testing is screening at age 65 or older, when women are menopausal. However, if a woman has other medical conditions, then bone density testing is recommended at a younger age. Some of those conditions include: previous fracture, glucocorticoid therapy (steroid use), parental history of hip fracture, low body weight (127 pounds or less), cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, thyroid problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. This list is not all-inclusive either. For example, if a middle-aged patient has moderately severe asthma and takes inhaled steroids on a regular basis, then bone density testing should be considered.

Bone density testing is important because osteoporosis and osteopenia (bone thinning) is easily treated, and the morbidity and mortality of untreated osteoporosis and osteopenia is high (hip fracture). The test itself is a simple test, like an x-ray, and is easy to do. Treatment is simple and includes increased physical activity, increased calcium and vitamin D intake, and a medication prescribed by a health care provider to take once per week or once per month.

Sabrina L. Collins, M.D.

Chattanooga Center for Women

7490 Ziegler Road

Chattanooga, TN