Bone Density and the Silent Disease

| Graceful Health

By Emma Higley, Grace Cottage Diagnostic Imaging Manager

Has someone you love ever bumped themselves lightly or had a simple stumble that caused a bone fracture? If so, this may be an indication that they have a bone disease called Osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is the most prevalent bone disease, one in which the bone mineral density and the stability of the bone are reduced, making the bone porous. Osteoporosis is commonly referred to as the “silent disease” because this process often occurs over time with few or no symptoms, and so the patient doesn’t know it is happening. The most common areas for a patient to acquire fractures due to Osteoporosis are the lower back, hip and wrist.

You might ask what factors contribute to this disease. There are many. Some factors are within the individual’s control; others are not. The factors we can control are diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking habit, and alcohol consumption. The factors we cannot control are age, gender, ethnicity, bone frame, and family history of the disease.

In addition, it has been determined that some types of medications can also lead to Osteoporosis. These include, but are not limited to: steroid-based drugs, some forms of birth control (for example, Depo-Provera), anticonvulsants, HIV treatments, some cancer drugs, high doses of vitamin A, and thyroid medications.

Roughly 80 percent of patients diagnosed with Osteoporosis are women; the risk increases with age as hormone levels drop. Men are also at risk, with nearly two million men affected by Osteoporosis in the United States. Again, the risk increases with age and loss of testosterone.

This makes it particularly important for certain individuals to have bone density screening tests. This test is so very important that Congress passed The Bone Mass Measurement Act in 1977, ensuring insurance coverage for preventative bone density screenings for women age 65 and older, and men age 70 and older, every two years.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density tests for all of the following: women age 65 and older, men age 70 and older, anyone who breaks a bone after age 50, and menopausal and post-menopausal women who are younger than 65 but who have additional risk factors. In addition, some other exceptions allow for more frequent bone density scans, including follow-up scans on individuals already undergoing treatment for Osteoporosis and individuals on long-term steroid use.

Are you a postmenopausal woman or a man, age 50 and older? Have you recently broken a bone? If you answered “yes” to both questions, you should talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider about getting a bone density test if you’ve never had one.

Bone density screening exams, commonly called DEXA Scans, are noninvasive tests. They require no effort or preparation on the part of the individual. During the test, the patient lies comfortably on a table while a licensed Radiologic Technologist uses a machine to acquire images of the patient’s lower back and hip. Grace Cottage’s Radiology Department provides bone density testing services Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The bone density levels are measured by the computer, measured against the base norms, and scores are accessed. During this assessment a FRAX score is computed, calculating a person’s absolute fracture risk or an estimate of the chance of breaking a bone in the next ten years. All of this information is forwarded to the ordering physician for dissemination to the patient and to guide a course of treatment, if necessary.

In summation, your quality of life is determined by your level of daily activities and your physical health. Osteoporosis can severely disrupt this quality of life. Early screening can help to ensure that you can keep up with the activities you are accustomed to doing, leading to a longer, healthier, happier life!

Emma Higley joined Grace Cottage in 2016 as Manager for the Imaging Department. She holds degrees in Science Radiologic Technology and Applied Science in Business and has Licenses in Radiography and Computed Tomography.