From the time an individual is conceived, like all bodily systems, bones are developed. Up to the age of around 30 years bone is constantly being renewed laying down new cells to ensure bone strength and health. As an individual ages bone regeneration begins to lessen. This can lead to fragile, brittle bones which fracture more easily.
Why does bone health get worse around perimenopause/menopause?
Oestrogen plays a large role in bone health in women so when Oestrogen levels drop in peri/Menopause, the bones become weaker and can lead to Osteoporosis which is a condition where bone mass is lost causing the bones to become less dense and more fragile. The most common fractures in Osteoporosis are in the spine; hips; wrists and forearms.
Often an individual is given an Osteoporosis diagnosis only after they have suffered a fracture, however, those deemed higher risk for the condition may be offered a test known as a DEXA Scan.
Those at higher risk include previous fracture; Arthritis; certain medications like steroids for inflammatory conditions; Premature Ovarian Insufficiency; family history of hip fractures; smokers; higher alcohol intake; low body mass index.
What happens in a DEXA Scan?
Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry or DEXA Scan, as the name suggests, is a type of X-Ray. The body is exposed to radiation, some of which is absorbed by bone and soft tissue and the rest passes through the rest of the body. The DEXA machine records how much radiation passes through the bones.
The scan takes between 10-20 minutes, does not require any pre-treatment or preparation other than removing clothing with metal fasteners. The individual is asked to lie on their back on the x-ray table while a scanning arm passes over their body. Even though radiation is used it is very safe and the individual is exposed to less radiation than in regular X-Rays.
The Doctor will analyse the results, and this will determine ongoing management of the condition if diagnosed.
How can you improve bone health?
Individuals can improve their own bone health by eating healthily including foods rich in calcium; add vitamin D supplements to their medication regime; exercise regularly including strength, stamina and cardiovascular training and consider using HRT which is known to have some benefit in protecting the bones from fracture.
Skeletal problems can have a massive impact on an individual's life. Fractures are extremely painful and debilitating and can greatly reduce quality of life. Menopause can impact bone health and leave the individual at higher risk of damage. Scanning can detect issues before fractures occur and, along with lifestyle changes can mitigate problems early.
Anon, (2023) Osteoporosis: Effects on Bone Health
NHS, (2022) Bone Density Scan; (DEXA) www.nhs.uk/conditions/DEXA-scan
Abernathy, K. (2019) Menopause – A Practical Guide to Understanding and Dealing with the Menopause.
Hillard, T. et al, (2017) Management of the Menopause, 6th Ed.
Bluming, A & Tavris, C, (2018) Oestrogen Matters.