Osteoporosis: How Bone Density Scans Help

woman's backOsteoporosis is the most common bone disease. It is a condition in which there is low bone density, with thinning and weakened bones. Low bone density predisposes a person to bone fractures.

Bone mineral density (BMD) scans help to determine how dense a patient’s bones are and if there is actually any documented osteoporosis.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?

Bones develop the greatest strength and density by the time a person is about 30 years old. This is called peak bone mass. There are many factors and risks that affect the retention of strong bone density throughout a lifetime.

What increases your risk for getting osteoporosis?

Here are some interesting statistics that indicate who is at greatest risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Being a female increases the risk. Women are 4 times more likely than men to get osteoporosis; 80 percent of cases are women.
  • Post-menopausal women over 50 years old lose important hormones, specifically estrogen, that support and strengthen bones.
  • Interestingly, a man over 50 is more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis than prostate cancer; 20 percent of cases are men.

Risk Factors

It is important to note that 80 percent of bone density is inherited and 20 percent is determined by a person’s lifestyle. There are many risk factors for developing osteoporosis, which include:

  • Low body weight
  • Losing height; 4 centimeters or 1.6 inches indicates possible compression fractures of the spine
  • Low estrogen levels
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Chronic steroid use

Bone Density Scans

Diagnosing osteoporosis is done by several means. One of the most important and most commonly used tools for diagnosing osteoporosis is a bone density scan. The purpose of the scan is to:

  • Estimate the density of the bones and the ensuing chance of breaking a bone
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis
  • Monitor the effectiveness of current osteoporosis treatment

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends a bone density scan of the hip and spine for the greatest accuracy. A dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) machine is used to perform the study. The DXA scan is also sometimes done on the forearm.

The results of the test are reported as a T-score and Z-score. The T-score is a patient’s bone density compared to a normal result of a young adult of the same sex; -1 and above is normal. The Z-score works similarly but takes into account a more specific comparison of age, sex, weight and ethnicity; a score of -2 or lower indicates abnormal bone loss.

The test is simple and painless. While lying on an x-ray table, a mechanical arm is passed over the area of the body being evaluated. There is very low radiation exposure. The bone density scan takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Prevention of Osteoporosis

Following some basic guidelines can prevent osteoporosis:

  • Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake
  • Performing weight bearing exercises
  • Taking osteoporosis medication, as prescribed in some clinical cases
  • Eating fruit and vegetables on a daily basis

Be Proactive

It is important to be proactive about osteoporosis awareness. Discussing the personal risks and treatment options with a qualified physician is critical. Having a timely bone density scan is imperative to assess the status of bone health and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

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