How Can You Tell Whether You're Losing Bone Density?

Last updated on : June 26 2021

Unhappy girl with broken leg


What Is Bone Density?

Bone mineral density (BMD), or what medical experts typically refer to as bone density, is the measured amount of bone mineral found in the bone tissue. 

We measure bone density as the mass of bone mineral per volume of bone, following the general formula of how density is measured. 

Measuring bone density is challenging in reality, so the actual measurement is by proxy through imaging the bone and measuring its optical density. 

While doctors use bone as an indicator of osteoporosis, they use bone density to determine the risk of fractures. Since fractures are a significant health issue for older adults, bone density measurement can be a valuable method of determining the proper care for a person.

What Is A Low Bone Density?

Low bone density is the condition under which your bone density is lower than expected, but it is still not low enough to be considered osteoporosis. 

In this condition, you are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, and you are also more prone to bone fractures.

Signs of Low Bone Density

What are the signs that you are losing bone density?

The truth is that it's not easy to detect bone density loss, especially during the early stages. It can happen without apparent symptoms, although there are often clear warning signs. 

To help you prepare, here are the top warning signs that you are suffering from low bone density:

1. Being Prone To Fractures

Fractures are the most common signs that you are suffering from deteriorating bone density. 

People with normal bone density can suffer from bone fractures or other aches and pains. However, if you have had multiple fractures within a relatively short time, say in the past two years, then that could be telltale signs that your bones are not as healthy as they should be.

A fracture that might seem too severe for the situation that caused it is also a warning sign. Fracturing an ankle with a simple misstep, for example, should make you suspicious.

2. Small & Thin Frame

If you have a small and delicate frame, then that already means you are at a higher risk of suffering from bone density loss. It stems from the fact that you have less bone density to lose in the first place. 

Your body reaches its peak bone mass when you are between 20 to 25 years old. Sometime between 30 to 40 years old, you start losing bone mass. 

The rate of bone loss will depend on several factors, but if you have a small body frame, you need to be extra careful and look out for the other warning signs that we have listed here. 

If you're still below 30 years old, then you should try to build as much muscle mass as you can while your bones are still developing. That will help you prepare for bone density loss as you grow older.

3. Taking Cortisone Drugs

Cortisone medications for long periods can affect hormone levels in the body. The way it affects hormone levels will cause vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients to seep away from your bones, leaving them weak and less dense.

Doctors use cortisone medications for treating autoimmune diseases, and people who suffer from these conditions also have a higher rate of suffering from bone density loss. 

If you need to take cortisone medications, you should be under the close supervision of your doctor to make sure that the drugs will not have too much of an effect on your bones. 

Some doctors will ask their patients to get a bone density scan soon after starting the medications.

4. You're A Smoker

Another vital sign that you are losing bone density is that you smoke. 

It's not clear to experts why, but they have found a definite connection between smoking and osteoporosis. If you are a smoker during your adult years, there is a good chance that your bone density has been seriously affected. 

So, if you are a smoker now, then you should quit immediately. It's never too late to stop since you will be getting the benefits from it directly and immediately.

5. You Drink More Than The Average Person

If you drink heavily, then there is a good chance that you are losing bone density without you being aware of it. Alcohol causes magnesium, calcium, and other essential minerals from your bones to leach out. 

The more that you drink, the likelier it is that you are leaching minerals from your bones. 

Researchers have also found women to be more vulnerable to the effect of drinking than men. The only solution to stop this is to cut down on the amount that you drink.

6. You Don't Drink Milk

Containers of milk

If you don't drink milk because you are lactose intolerant or for any other reason, then there is a good chance that you are losing bone density right at this moment. 

Milk is the prominent bone builder. It is rich in nutrients needed by your bones. If you don't drink, you miss out on the nutrients required by your body to build your bones. 

Remember, it's not the milk that's important. It's the nutrients found in the milk that you need. So, if you can't or don't want to drink dairy milk, you can go for alternatives like soymilk fortified with the nutrients you can get from milk. 

The good news is that there are plenty of those alternative milk products now.

7. Irregular Periods

If you're a woman with irregular periods, that is a significant sign that you're losing bone density. 

Low estrogen levels usually cause irregular periods and also contribute to bone loss. Women with irregular periods typically have bone problems as well.

Some causes of irregular periods like polycystic ovary disease (PCOS) are treatable. So, if you have an irregular period, you should talk to your doctor about it.

Try these 10 superfoods to crush estrogen imbalance.

8. You Have A Relative Who Developed Osteoporosis

Suppose you have a relative who developed osteoporosis before menopause. In that case, that increases the likelihood that you are suffering from bone density loss or could be on track to suffer from it.

Genetics has a role to play, too, in whether you might have poor bone density or not.

Getting A Bone Density Tests

Doctors usually perform Bone density tests in the nuclear medicine or radiology departments of clinics or hospitals. Since it is an imaging procedure, it is non-invasive and painless. 

The bones targeted for this type of test are usually the spine and the hip, although there are also cases when the procedure targets the forearm for testing.

A bone density test is different from bone scans because it requires an injection of some material to aid in the imaging before the test. Doctors use bone scans for detecting fractures, infections, and cancer. 

Preparing For The Test

How should you prepare for a bone density test?

Because it involves mainly imaging and is a non-invasive test, there is almost no preparation needed. These tests are usually high-speed and will only take from 10 to 30 minutes. 

You have to inform your doctor if you have had any other recent exams like a nuclear medicine test or a barium exam. The materials used for those tests can mess up the result of the bone density test.

Also, if you are taking calcium supplements, you should refrain from taking those at least or 24 hours before the test. 

Wear loose and comfortable clothing without any zippers or buttons, and don't wear jewelry as those can interfere with the imaging. 

What to Expect

Bone density tests usually target the bones that you might damage because of osteoporosis. Those bones include the spine, the neck of the thigh bone, and the forearm bones. 

If you are having the test at a hospital, the doctor will probably ask you to lie down on a platform where a mechanical arm will pass over you, focusing on the part they want to examine. 

There are portable machines that doctors can use for testing the bone density of the extremities of your body, like your heel.

Remember that bone density may vary throughout your body, so a measurement taken at your heel may not indicate osteoporosis affecting your spine.


Healthy girl with strong bones

This article covers the important things that you should know about bone density and the test used for detecting it. In most cases, bone density loss is a condition that you can prevent. Take action now to keep your bones healthy and strong.

About the author

Vera Johnston is a health expert at One Step Diagnostic, a healthcare service provider in Texas specializing in meeting patient's medical imaging needs. Based in Houston, Johnston brings with her several years of experience in the healthcare industry, having helped multiple patients deal with several medical issues. You may reach her through this number: (713) 795-9200 or via email [email protected].

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