Many people, particularly women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70, are prone to osteoporosis. They might have heard about bone densitometry and other exams, and in order to allay any concerns regarding any of these things, we will explore the disease, how it's diagnosed as well as mention some possible treatments.
Osteoporosis and Its Causes
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes a gradual loss of calcium, as well as structural changes of the bones in your body. The result is that your bones become thinner and more fragile and are more likely to break even from mild traumas.
Studies show that about 1 out of 5 American women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis. About half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bones of the spine).
The decreased estrogen levels women experience at menopause, as well as a drop in testosterone in older men, are the chief causes for the disease. Not surprisingly, women over age 50 and men over age 70 are much more likely to suffer from osteoporosis.
Other causes include:
Vitamin D deficiency
Insufficient calcium in diet
Taking corticosteroid medications
If you have a family history of osteoporosis or have one of the above mentioned risk factors, your doctor might suggest a bone density test. If it turns out that you have osteoporosis, your doctor will likely prescribe treatment to helps improve bone health and strength. Treatments might include medications, exercise, and vitamin or mineral supplements.
Now, there is no need to be concerned about the exam itself. These test are completely painless, and don't usually require you to go into a claustrophobia-inducing chamber (like a CT or MRI). They also only last for about 10 minutes to at most, half an hour.
In most tests, you can remain fully dressed, and while lying on a cushioned table a scanner passes over your lower spine and hip.
Other tests, (like the peripheral DEXA), only scan the bone density in your wrist, fingers, leg or heel.
In either case, all you really need to do is remove all jewelry, possibly undress and don a medical robe, and lie or sit still during the scan. Of course, if you are pregnant or had any other medical treatment recently, you should inform your doctor beforehand.
The bone density exams scan the bones for mineral density and typically use x-ray technology to accomplish this. The most common and accurate method is referred to as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. The scan only emits about 1/10 of the radiation used in a typical x-ray exam of the chest.
Central Dexa scans require you to lie down while most of your body is scanned, while peripheral Dexa scans only small parts, like your wrist, leg or heel.
Although there are other methods of performing bone density exams, such as ultrasound or even CT scans, most major healthcare manufacturers produce machines that operate with x-ray technology.
For practicing physician, it's important to share this type of information with your patients. Additionally, if you are just starting out your practice, it's helpful to know which exams you plan on doing - that way you will know which type of bone densitometry equipment you need to buy.