Osteoporosis often develops slowly over years and it usually has no signs or symptoms until a minor fall or injury that causes a bone fracture. That’s why osteoporosis is often called a “silent” disease.
However, once your bones have been weakened due to osteoporosis, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of height
- Persistent back pain
- A stooped posture
- A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than usual
If you’ve experienced some of the symptoms listed above and you are a woman who went through early menopause, see your doctor as soon as possible to have it checked. Early detection means that you can get early treatment and avoid serious complications from the disease.
Osteoporosis diagnosis is usually made by collecting information about your medical history with a physical examination and some specific tests for osteoporosis. Your doctor will ask you about any possible risk factors and check your medical history including information about your past or current bone fractures.
Your doctor may also measure your height and ask you to perform a bone density test. It is used to measure the bone density in various sites of your body.
One of the results from this test is called a ‘T-score’, which compares your bone density with the average of young healthy adults. A T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates that you have osteoporosis, a T-score of between −1.0 and −2.5 is classed as ‘osteopenia’ (where bone density is lower than average but not low enough to be classified as ‘osteoporosis’) and a T-score of −1.0 or higher is normal.
The most common test used for diagnosing osteoporosis is a bone mineral density test known as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA scan). It a scan that uses low-dose x-rays to measure bone density and thickness. The test is safe, painless, and accurate.
Another test to diagnose osteoporosis is called digital X-ray radiogrammetry (DXR). It is easier to perform than the DEXA scan because it requires less technical equipment. However, it is not as sensitive as a DEXA scan at picking up all cases of osteoporosis. So, a DEXA scan remains the gold standard test.
A heel ultrasound test may also be used to test bone density and estimate the risk of fracture for women over 65. But again, it is less sensitive than DXA at predicting.