I want to talk today about bone scans . Here’s my basic advice: for the 40 million people with osteoporosis, this test is critical to diagnose and start treatment. It is good to develop a bone density baseline, but there is generally no reason to do it until you’re at least 65. It’s recommended for women over 65 and those under 65 only if they have a fracture or arthritis or family history or other indications that demonstrate a need for a scan. Men over 70 should consider the test if there is an indication such as, steroids or low testosterone, for it. (Medicare covers a bone scan every two years for people at risk of osteoporosis with a referral from your doctor.)
Unless the test shows evidence of osteoporosis or serious bone loss or you have other indications, you should be able to avoid scans in the future. You shouldn’t get your bone density tested repeatedly if there’s no evidence you need it. If test results show minimal bone loss, also called osteopenia, you might want to forgo repeated scans.
As you age, it’s natural to suffer some bone loss. Osteopenia has a much lower risk of fractures than osteoporosis and since bone density does not change rapidly, you probably can wait to get scanned again. Similarly, medication generally should not be taken to treat osteopenia. These drugs can carry some risks (as does any medication) and, the clinical benefit for those with osteopenia appears minor at best. Moreover, medications can be costly and lengthy.
So, if you are diagnosed with osteopenia and your doctor recommends regular bone scans or medications, you should ask your doctor whether you can avoid them. Medications alone could cost you between $38 and $148 each month, depending upon whether you take the generic or brand-name drug.
Instead of undergoing extra tests and getting another prescription, focus on how you can influence your health and reduce your chance of these and other tests. Make sure your diet is balanced and contains Calcium and Vitamin D. Avoid excessive drinking and smoking and medications that promote bone loss. Perform weight-bearing exercises. Finally, make your house and work safe by removing fall hazards.
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