Women, Osteoporosis & Bone Density Scan


Dr. Wendy Yu

Consultant Gynecologist


While the weakening of bones is a condition often associated with general aging, women should be especially aware. Though these may not be ostensible conditions, about 40% of postmenopausal women have osteopenia (low bone density). An additional 7% have osteoporosis.

How does osteoporosis develop?

Low levels of estrogen, a hormone that helps prevent bone loss but is no longer produced by women’s ovaries after menopause, and a lack of minerals such as calcium, can contribute to the deterioration of women’s bones. As a result, some people may develop osteopenia, a condition characterized by low bone density. Osteopenia can eventually lead to osteoporosis, a more severe condition with even lower bone density, which makes bones brittle and weak. The risk of fractures also rises.

Unfortunately, many menopausal women do not discover that they have osteoporosis until a bone fracture occurs. Early diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis are crucial as they may help decrease the risk of a fracture.

Fortunately, there are procedures that can be followed and preventative measures taken to lower one’s risk. Bone density scanning measures bone mineral density (BMD), which helps a doctor decide whether a person is at increased risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture.

What is Bone mineral density (BMD) ?

A bone mineral density (BMD) test measures the density of minerals such as calcium in your bones using a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry test (referred to as a DEXA scan). By measuring BMD, it’s possible to estimate the strength of your bones and predict the risk of fracture in the same manner that measuring blood pressure can predict the risk of stroke.

 Who should test their BMD?

BMD testing is recommended for all women over age of 65. Additionally, postmenopausal women under 65 years who have risk factors for osteoporosis or women going through menopause who have a previous history of fracture, low body weight, cigarette smoking, and a family history of fractures, birth control pill user should be tested. Finally, men and women with strong risk factors listed below should discuss the benefit of DEXA scanning with their doctor and to determine if testing is indicated.

The following are potential factors for osteoporosis that might suggest the need for DEXA scanning:

    -Personal history of fractures as an adult

    -Low body weight or thin stature

    -Advanced age

    -Current cigarette smoking

    -Use of corticosteriod therapy for more than 3 months

    -Impaired vision

    -Estrogen deficiency early age

    -Dementia

    -Poor health

    -Recent falls

    -Lifelong low calcium intake

    -Low physical activity

    -Alcohol intake

    -Thyroid disease

    -Rheumatoid arthritis

    -excessive coffee consumption

Despite the fact that osteoporosis is a disease that results in a significant risk of fracture, understanding its diagnosis and treatment plays an important role in living well on a day to day basis. The consequences of fractures include hospitalization, pain, immobility, a decrease in the quality of life, and even death. From a larger perspective, it is a costly disease in terms of doctoring and time lost from work. Early detection and therapy provide the best way to prevent these complications. BMD testing, which is not only easily performed and time efficient, but also painless, can detect low bone density before fracture occurs and predict the risk of experiencing a fracture. While many methods of BMD testing exist, currently the best method is DEXA scanning.

It is estimated that 1 out of every 2 women over the age of 50 will be affected by osteoporosis in her remaining lifetime. All in all, it is not only important for women going through menopause to be aware of the condition but also take advantage of the technology available to avoid the consequences of late diagnosis.