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Osteoporosis

How Can You Tell If You Are Developing Osteoporosis?

Monday, April 23, 2012 - 12:53

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

If your health care provider thinks that you may have or may be at risk for osteoporosis, you may need a bone mineral density (BMD) test (also referred to as a bone density test), which can detect osteoporosis and allow effective treatment to start.

A BMD test can help your physician confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis even before broken bones happen. The test can help in several ways:

  • BMD testing can is one of the most accurate ways to assess your bone health
  • When repeated over time, it can be used to monitor your rate of bone loss
  • It can detect osteoporosis at its earliest stage, before the first fracture so that easy and effective treatment can begin sooner
  • If you are being treated for osteoporosis, BMD testing can help your physician monitor your response to the treatment

DXA or DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) (hyperlink glossary) is the gold standard for bone density measurement. DEXA delivers only about one-tenth the radiation dose of a chest X-ray. It is performed while you are lying in on a cushioned table, while a scanner passes over your body. In most cases you won't even need to undress. Other tests can measure bone density at the heel or the wrist. These are often used as a screening test because they are easy, quick, and inexpensive. If one of these is abnormal, then you should have the standart DEXA of the hip and lumbar spine, which can be used to follow treatment and improvement.

Regular bone density testing can be important in combating osteoporosis in certain people. It is recommended that those who are at higher risk should have a bone density test.

Many insurance companies today will pay for bone density testing under certain circumstances. Most experts agree that allwomen over age 65 are at risk and should have bone density tests. Other women who should have the test include those who have had any fracture, especially after menopause. Men who have had a spine or hip fracture should have the test, as well as women and men who take prednisone for more than three months.

Is All Bone Density Testing The Same?

Some care providers now offer simple bone scans as part of health fairs or screenings. One such scan measures your heel bone density to check for signs of osteoporosis. Health care professionals caution that these tests don't always produce results that are as accurate as the DEXA bone density test, but can be a good first step screening to decide if a DEXA test of the hip and spine is needed.

Nice To Know:

Q: In order to keep track of the progression of my osteoporosis, my doctor wants me to have regular bone density exams. But aren't X-rays risky?

A: The methods involved in osteoporosis screening tests used today are very safe. The exposure to radiation is very low and considered by most experts to be quite acceptable. And bone mineral density exams have high value in monitoring the progression of osteoporosis and the effectiveness of treatment.

Osteoporosis