A Mass General expert provides advice about improving your bone health and recognizing osteoporosis.

“Most people will reach their peak bone mass between the ages of 20 and 30,” says Joy Tsai, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Endocrine Unit. “While some amount of bone loss is expected with aging, it is important to identify if you have very low bone density so your doctor can make recommendations to help prevent broken bones. Osteoporosis is a silent disease.”

Joy Tsai, MD
Joy Tsai, MD

Here, Dr. Tsai talks about the ways in which you can spot osteoporosis and better your bone health.

What is osteoporosis? 

Osteoporosis is a disease of decreased bone mass and strength leading to an increased risk of fracture (a broken bone). About 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men age 50 or older are expected to break a bone due to osteoporosis. It’s important to obtain a DXA test to screen for low bone density. Much like checking a cholesterol blood level to screen for abnormal cholesterol levels, a bone density test is a helpful tool to screen for low bone density. We recommend you have a bone density test after age 65 if you are a woman, after age 70 if you are a man, or after age 50 if you are a woman or man who has had a fracture as an adult or have certain risk factors.

How do you know if you are at risk for a bone fracture? 

The main tool we use to assess bone health is the DXA test – or a bone mineral density test. It uses two different X-ray beams to estimate bone density in your spine and hip. There are also a variety of risk factors for fractures such as other medical conditions including diabetes, breast cancer and emphysema. Certain medications such as steroids can also increase your risk as can a family history of osteoporosis.

Staying active with weight-bearing exercises, which may be as simple as walking, will help keep your bones strong.

What steps can you take to improve bone health? 

Literally taking “steps” will help improve your bone health. Staying active with weight-bearing exercises, which may be as simple as walking, will help keep your bones strong. Additionally, adequate calcium intake is important since bone is mostly made up of calcium-containing mineral. If you already have osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a calcium-rich diet. Lastly, avoiding falls is a good way to prevent fractures. You can talk to your doctor about various strategies to minimize the chance of falls.

For more information about the Mass General Bone Density Center, please visit the center’s website.

This story was first published by MGH Hotline.