Bone Density Screening & Osteoporosis

Building—and Keeping—Healthy Bones

Bone health isn't something we can observe, nonetheless it's an important part of staying well. Taking steps to preserve stable bones can pay off, particularly as we age and begin to lose strength.

Throughout our lives, bone is continually absorbed and removed while new bone is rebuilt. Before age 35 the rate bone disappears is equal to the rate of bone being rebuilt. As a result, our bone strength remains stable.

The picture begins to change radically after age 35, especially in women during and after menopause. In this period, the pace of bone absorption and removal is faster than the rate at which bone is restored. This pattern of rapid bone loss is known as osteoporosis. Bone loss associated with aging is more common in women than men. If bone loss continues, bones become weak and can easily fracture. Significant bone deficiency can also lead to a loss of height.


Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. Osteoporosis is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women. In osteoporosis, there is a loss of bone tissue that leaves bones less dense and more likely to fracture. It can result in a loss of height, severe back pain, and change in one’s posture. Osteoporosis can impair a person’s ability to walk and can cause prolonged or permanent disability.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • thinness or small frame
  • family history of the disease
  • being postmenopausal and particularly having had early menopause
  • abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • prolonged use of certain medications, such as those used to treat lupus, asthma, thyroid deficiencies and seizures
  • low calcium intake
  • lack of physical activity
  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol intake

Some risk factors associated with osteoporosis are not within anyone's control. These include age, ethnicity, sex, hormone exposure and family history. Other factors can be modified, and doing so will reduce your likelihood of experiencing osteoporosis. These include quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, practicing weight-bearing exercises at least three times each week, and practicing good nutrition, including consuming enough calcium.

Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because it can progress undetected for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs. Osteoporosis is diagnosed by a bone mineral density test, which is a safe and painless way to detect low bone density.

Although there is no cure for the disease, the Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications to prevent and treat osteoporosis. In addition, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular weight-bearing exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can prevent or lessen the effects of the disease.

Screening for Osteoporosis

Although bone loss is a natural part of aging, steps can be taken to ensure that bones remain healthy and strong late into life. And unlike in the past, we don't have to wait until a debilitating fracture has occurred before identifying and treating this problem.

Today, a DexaScan can measure bone density and detect bone loss early. And this early detection of bone loss can help prevent osteoporosis. A DexaScan is a low-dose X-ray that checks an area of the body such as the hip, hand, or foot for signs of mineral loss and bone thinning.

DexaScan is a quick and painless procedure offered at The Breast Center. You may want to schedule this valuable test at the same time as your mammogram. Because a physician referral is needed for a DexaScan, do talk with your physician first. For more information, call The Breast Center at 425.690.3688.

Who Should Get a DexaScan

  • Women over age 65
  • Women or men experiencing loss of height
  • Postmenopausal women with fractures
  • Postmenopausal women under age 65 with risk factors other than menopause
  • Women considering therapy for osteoporosis
  • Those who are considering stopping or have stopped hormone replacement therapy