The breakdown about osteoporosis and bone density testing

February 16, 2024 Swedish Health Team


In this article:

  • Osteoporosis causes weak bones that are prone to fractures – especially in the hip, wrist and spine. The condition affects roughly 10 million Americans.

  • Bone density testing is a safe, painless way to help determine bone health and detect osteoporosis while it’s still in its early, more treatable stage.

  • Christopher Shuhart, M.D., medical director of the Bone Health and Osteoporosis program at Swedish, was co-chair of an international committee of bone health experts that met recently to update worldwide guidelines for bone density testing.

Make no bones about it. Osteoporosis is a serious health issue.

Osteoporosis affects an estimated 10 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. It is a disease that causes your bones to weaken. As your bones become more fragile, they become more susceptible to fractures – especially in the hip, spine, pelvis, shoulder and wrist. And that can have life-changing results, according to Christopher Shuhart, M.D., medical director of the Swedish Bone Health and Osteoporosis program.

“When our bones break – particularly as we get older – we are likely to lose independence. At least half of people 75 or older who break their hip do not walk normally again. At least half of them have to go to a nursing home for some time for rehabilitation,” says Dr. Shuhart. “Our patients want to live their lives in the way they want to live them. And that’s what we want for them too. There’s nothing like a fracture to mess that up.”

Dr. Shuhart was co-chair of the recent Position Development Conference for the International Society of Clinical Densitometry (ISCD). During the conference, the group updated the official positions that address the timing and reporting of bone density testing. Accompanying position papers outline guidelines and best practices as recommended by experts in the field. They are used by caregivers worldwide.

According to the updated recommendations, you should have a bone mineral density (BMD) test if you are:

  • A woman, age 65 or older.
  • Younger than 65, postmenopausal and at high risk for low bone mass, including low body weight, prior fracture, high-risk medication use, and disease or conditions associated with bone loss.
  • In menopausal transition and at high risk for fractures.
  • A man, age 70 and older.
  • A man younger than 70, with a risk factor of low bone mass.
  • Discontinuing the use of estrogen supplements.

Accurate data, effective care

For many people, determining the guidelines of bone density testing may be “like watching paint dry,” says Dr. Shuhart. But it’s an essential part of providing safe, effective care.

“We want good data. We want people to get accurate test results. We want providers to be able to act on those results with confidence. We want to make good decisions. So, we have to have good data. And that’s what a lot of this year’s official positions or guidelines are about,” he explains. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide the best available information so that providers and patients can make good decisions. I’m here because I don’t want you to break.”

Learn more and find a provider

Bone density testing with a DXA scan is offered at several locations, including the Swedish Bone Health and Osteoporosis Clinic at Cherry Hill. A DXA scan is an imaging study used to measure bone density. This advanced technology produces high-resolution images of even the tiniest changes in your bones. It is an invaluable tool when diagnosing osteoporosis or monitoring treatment.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors

Related resources

Our new Women’s Wellness & Specialty GYN Services, First Hill, meets a need for specialized care

Have you scheduled your annual wellness exam?

Tips for healthy living through and beyond menopause

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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