QUESTION

My gynecologist told me that I don’t need a bone-density test because I’m only 52. Is this right? I’m concerned because my mom had osteoporosis.

ANSWER

Generally, age 65 is when most women start getting screened for osteoporosis. However, women with particular risk factors should get screened earlier. Those risk factors include having a low body weight, losing a significant amount of height, having a fracture after age 50, being a smoker, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol—and, yes, having a family history of osteoporosis. Certain medical conditions also can increase risk for osteoporosis. And while the classic image of someone with osteoporosis is a thin, hunched over elderly woman, men can develop the condition, too. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends screening men—beginning at age 70 if they have no risk factors. The American College of Physicians has also come out with guidelines for screening older men. Since osteoporosis often has no symptoms—until it’s discovered because of a fracture—it’s important that everyone be screened at least once for a baseline reading. For most women, the test should be repeated every two years after menopause, but how often you need to repeat it will depend on the health of your bones and your risk factors. Bone mineral density is measured using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA. This test can alert you to problems early so you can take steps to preserve and protect your bones before you suffer debilitating problems. Based on your family history of osteoporosis, if your doctor doesn’t think you should be tested, it might be time to change to a doctor who does!