Bone Density Testing

Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and vulnerable to fractures. This relatively common condition often has no symptoms in the early stages — but it can be diagnosed quickly and painlessly with a bone density test. Now it’s possible to get this specialized X-ray imaging test right in the doctor’s office rather than a hospital. On-premises bone density testing allows doctors to quickly get results and develop a treatment plan — and saves patients the time and stress of a hospital visit.

Bone Density Test and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose their density and become progressively weaker and more fragile, so that they can break with even mild stresses such as coughing. Fractures caused by osteoporosis usually occur in the hip, the spine or the wrist and can cause permanent disability.

Osteoporosis can affect both men and women, particularly those over 50 — and postmenopausal women are considered to be at the greatest risk. That’s because low levels of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are associated with a risk of developing osteoporosis, and after menopause, the body’s supply of those hormones drops significantly. But low hormone levels can also raise the risk for men.

Medications can also contribute to developing osteoporosis. Long-term use of steroids such as cortisone can raise the risk, and so can some chemotherapy drugs. Other risk factors include low blood levels of vitamin D and/or the mineral calcium as well as lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Osteoporosis may have no symptoms in its earliest stages, but as it progresses, symptoms such as muscle cramping; aching in the hips, legs or spine; and a noticeable loss of height can appear. Osteoporosis can be treated with a variety of medications aimed at reducing further bone loss. Lifestyle and diet modifications such as quitting smoking, regular weight-bearing exercise, and taking supplemental calcium and vitamin D are also important.

Options for Bone Density Testing

A variety of tests have been developed to screen for bone density in order to spot problems early and start treatment before symptoms progress. Some kinds of tests, called peripheral bone density tests, can be performed just about anywhere, such as a pharmacy or a community health fair. Peripheral bone density screenings don’t always accurately diagnose osteoporosis, but they can help identify people who might benefit from a full bone density test.

Bone density testing is done using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, a sophisticated kind of X-ray technology that measures the amount of calcium and other bone-supporting minerals in sections of bone in the hip, spine or forearm.

T-Scores and Z-Scores Help With Diagnosis

The results of a bone density test are expressed as the T-score, which describes a person’s bone density measurement against the standard of a healthy 30-year-old. A T-score of -1.0 or higher is in the “normal” range for bone density. A score between -1.0 and -2.5 indicates a condition called osteopenia, or lower than normal bone density, and scores below -2.5 indicate a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

Doctors may also use other tools, such as fracture risk assessments and the Z-score, to help develop a treatment plan. The Z-score measures a person’s bone density against the “norm” for their age and body size, rather than a hypothetical 30-year-old. This measure may be misleading, though, because many older adults can have low bone mineral density compared to a healthy person of a much younger age.

A full bone density scan typically takes around 15 minutes. When DXA technology is available right in the office, it’s possible to perform the test within the framework of a regular office visit. At Yaffe Ruden & Associates, we’ll have your test results in hand immediately, so that we can begin working with you right away on a treatment plan that’s best for you.

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