Battling Osteoporosis: Bone Density Testing Helps Guide Treatment

May 8, 2015 10:25:00 AM

Posted by Diane Campbell

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Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones degenerate, become porous, and lose mass or density. As a result, bones become weaker and may break easily, even from minor impacts or stresses as small as sneezing. Osteoporosis is very common, affecting an estimated 54 million Americans; studies suggest that as many as one in two women and one in four men age 50 and older may suffer a broken bone as a result.[1] What can you do to help detect osteoporosis and prevent injury?

Osteoporosis is a serious degenerative condition.

Osteoporosis is responsible for two million broken bones and $19 billion in related costs every year. Experts predict that in the next decade, osteoporosis will be responsible for approximately three million fractures and $25.3 billion in costs each year.[2]

Osteoporosis-related fractures occur most commonly in the hip, spine, and wrists. If osteoporosis causes the spinal vertebrae to break or collapse, it may cause you to become stooped and to permanently lose height. It can also limit your mobility and cause persistent, chronic pain. Twenty percent of seniors who break a hip die within a year due to problems arising from the break itself or complications from surgical repair.[3]

Who should be screened for bone degeneration?

Your risk of developing osteoporosis is influenced not only by the condition of your bones, but also by your gender, age, ethnicity, weight, medical history, and lifestyle choices.

  • AGE: The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening for osteoporosis in all women aged 65 years and older, because postmenopausal women are at highest risk.[4] However, men can also develop the condition.The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a DEXA bone density scan for men over 70 years old and anyone who breaks a bone after age 50. Much more rarely, younger people and even children can develop the condition.
  • ETHNICITY: Caucasian and Asian woman are at higher risk for developing osteoporosis than African-American or Hispanic women.
  • WEIGHT: Women under 125 pounds and tall women with smaller frames are also at greater risk.
  • MEDICAL HISTORY: Patients taking certain medications, including corticosteroids, Dilantin, or thyroid replacement drugs, as well as individuals with type 1 diabetes, kidney or liver disease, hypothyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, or a family history of osteoporosis, as well as other conditions that cause bone loss, are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • LIFESTYLE FACTORS: Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use, and a low-calcium diet can increase your risk, while regular weight-bearing exercise like jogging and weight lifting can help decrease it.

How does screening work?

The most common bone density test is a “DEXA” scan, which stands for “dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.” The test can provide a great deal of valuable information about the condition of your bones and the likelihood that you will experience a break. It uses low-dose x-rays and is a quick, painless procedure.

The x-rays scan the bone density of your hip, spine, or arm; the results are compared against the "normal" bone density of someone your age, sex, and ethnicity. If your result is significantly lower than the usual measurement, you may be at risk for developing osteoporosis or suffering a break.

What happens next?

DEXA screening can help you understand the likelihood that you will break a bone and prevention measures that may be advisable. Having low bone density does not mean you will get osteoporosis, but it may increase your risk of osteoporosis in the future. Taking all of your personal factors into consideration will help your health care provider assess your risk of breakage and what therapies might be appropriate.  

Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, you can help prevent, slow, or stop its progress, sometimes even improving your bone density. Getting regular exercise, increasing your calcium and vitamin D intake, and adding certain medications can reduce or reverse bone loss and help rebuild bone. [5] Follow-up DEXA tests, generally once each year, can provide information about the effectiveness and progress of your therapy or preventative treatment. 

We offer bone density testing at our Ankeny and Clive locations for your convenience.

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The information contained in the Iowa Radiology website is presented as public service information only. It is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider if you think you may have a medical problem before starting any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding your medical condition.

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Iowa Radiology

A compassionate, personal approach to medicine.

Iowa Radiology was founded in 2001 by a group of well-known central Iowa diagnostic professionals who wished to emphasize the personal side of diagnostic care as much as the technical side.


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