Guidelines for when to get a bone mineral density scan, and how often to repeat the scan, vary. The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation recommends scans beginning at age 65 for women and 70 for men. Scans can begin even earlier, as early as age 50 for women and men who have risk factors for fractures. Dr. Walker assesses each patient’s risk to make personalized recommendations about when it’s time for a baseline DXA.
In women, bone mass drops most rapidly in the four to five years around menopause, when estrogen plummets, then slows and continues through the rest of life.
“Given that about 20% of women over age 50 have osteoporosis and 50% have low bone mass, getting a first scan around this age may be beneficial for people with risk factors,” says Dr. Walker, “because we have a chance to slow the loss before it gets worse.”
A wide variety of factors affect the rate of bone loss, says Dr. Walker, whose research investigates how certain medications speed or slow the process.
Osteoporosis risk is greater in people who take certain medications for cancer and epilepsy, certain blood thinners, or steroids. In all genders, a family history of osteoporosis, alcohol and tobacco use, or some medical conditions, including diabetes, increase one’s risk of fracture.
Based on your individual risk factors, your primary care provider can recommend when you should get your first bone density test.