Osteoporosis develops slowly and can be prevented, but you need to be screened and take proactive prevention steps. 85-90% of adult bone mass is built by ages 18-20, therefore our bone mass is strongest in our early 20’s. We lose some bone mass as we age, so it is important to keep track of it with regular screenings.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation has issued screening guidelines that call for all women over 65 to have their bone mineral density (BMD) measured by a doctor, while women with a higher risk should be tested earlier. The American College of Physicians recommends that men with a high risk to be screened by age 65.
There are 3 main BMD tests. The most popular is Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA). It has the highest accuracy and uses X-rays to scan important bone sites like the hip, vertebrae and wrists. Another test is Quantitative Computerized Tomography, which is a type of CT scan. This test can be expensive and doesn’t track the progression of osteoporosis as well as DXA. Finally, Ultrasonography can be used to determine BMD by looking at your heel bone with a sonogram machine to determine risk of fracture. If these tests show a loss in bone mass, your doctor may suggest preventative steps.
First, make sure your diet includes enough calories, calcium and vitamin D. Men and premenopausal women should have at least 1000mg of calcium per day, postmenopausal women should have 1200-1500mg of calcium per day and a daily intake of 800 units of vitamin D is also recommended for all. It’s best to get these through the foods you eat, but a daily supplement may also work well. Smoker’s bodies absorb less calcium than non-smokers, so you will be asked to stop. Protein supplements may be suggested for those who have already experienced fractures from osteoporosis, and be asked to limit the use of alcohol, caffeine and salt. Finally, your doctor may have you start weight-bearing and resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles that surround your bone, such as walking, hiking, stair-climbing and lifting weights.