Osteoporosis — a condition in which your bones lose density and become fragile and brittle — has no symptoms. In the past, breaking a bone or developing a deformity such as a hunched back were among the few signs that led your doctor to suspect that you had osteoporosis.
Today, board-certified rheumatologists, such as those at the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, use a simple, 20-minute test called bone densitometry (aka a bone scan) to evaluate the quality of your bones. The test measures how many minerals, such as calcium, form the inner core of your bones. The density of the mineral content in your bones determines whether they’re healthy, show signs of osteopenia (bone mineral loss), or if you already have osteoporosis.
Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men are, but men lose bone-mineral content too, especially as they age. If you’re over 50, it’s not too soon to talk to your rheumatologist about a bone-density scan, whether you’re a man or a woman.
The doctors at the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey recommend bone densitometry if you:
Young women with irregular periods or periods that have stopped (not due to pregnancy) may also be at risk for osteoporosis. Certain medications increase your likelihood of developing fragile bones, so always let your doctor know what drugs you take, especially if you’re on any kind of anti-inflammatory medication.
Your doctor compares your results to the bone-density measurements of a young person of your sex who has healthy bones. The amount of variation from healthy young bones is categorized by something called a T-score:
Your doctor also compares your T-score to those of other people of your sex, age, and ethnic background, using something called a Z-score value. If your Z-score is lower or higher than average, you may have an underlying condition that’s causing your osteopenia or osteoporosis. Your doctor orders further tests to determine the cause of your bone loss.
Your first bone densitometry serves as a baseline measurement that your rheumatologist uses to monitor the health of your bones over time. If your bones are healthy, your doctor recommends another test in two years to be sure you haven’t lost more mineral content.
If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, your doctor gives you lifestyle recommendations. For instance, you may be advised to walk or run more often to healthily stress your bones, which stimulates them to create fresh new bone cells.
Your doctor may also recommend calcium supplements or bone-building medications. A bone scan every six months to a year lets your rheumatologist know if these measures are improving your bone density, or if your therapy should be changed.
If you’re over 50 or have other risk factors for osteoporosis, schedule a bone scan today by calling us at one of our four New Jersey locations: Somerville, Flemington, Princeton, or Monroe. Or just use the online form to request an appointment.