Weak bones. Broken hips. Frailty. These are not high on the list of concerns for most 30-year olds in good health. Yet here I was, in a room with a big square machine on the floor, about to get a bone density screening. That machine, it turns out, was a pDXA or peripheral dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scanner. This test would measure the bone density in my heel and determine if I had weak bones or a higher possibility of breaking a bone in the future.
With my lifestyle, I'm more likely to break a bone rock climbing than fracturing a hip, so why was I here? Because osteoporosis is a silent disease — you don't feel your bones weakening. Most women discover it the hard way, later in life with a fractured bone or stooped posture. Some 54 million women in the United States have low bone mass, and as many as one in two women 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
By establishing a baseline now, at a free health screening, I can take the actions I need to minimize bone loss as I get older, and see how well they're working.
So, I sat in a chair and put my foot in the pDXA machine. Thirty seconds later it was over — that was easy!
I learned I do have slightly lower bone mass than normal. Some people may have a lower than average bone mass because of genetics, body size or other conditions. This could just be their "normal" and not an indication of bone loss. Now, as I age, I'll be able to keep an eye on this number.
Are you at risk?
Most women below age 50 have perfectly strong bones. People reach their maximum bone density and strength around age 30, after which bone mass naturally begins to decline with age.
Your doctor will be able to tell you how your risk factors measure up and if they reach a level in which you should pursue a scan. You can also take our online risk assessment.
Whether you have known risk factors or not, you can do your part to help maintain healthy bones with plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda as well as sugar and excessive amounts of citrus, by contrast, can all negatively affect your bone density.
If you are approaching age 50 and have a higher-than-average risk, speak with your doctor about when you should pursue a scan.