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Testing helps you prevent fractures, bone loss
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, also known as DEXA scanning, is the gold standard for determining patients’ bone mineral density, according to Nathan Groebner, MD, (standing) radiologist at New Ulm Medical Center. The test is administered by a radiology tech such as Terri Hutto (seated).
It's important for you to discuss concerns about bone loss or your risk for fractures with your primary care physician. For more information about bone density testing, call New Ulm Medical Center at 507-217-5011.
As we get older we lose bone mass, which makes our bones weaker and more likely to break. Some people however, lose more than others. Complicating matters, many people with bone loss may not realize it until they end up with a broken hip or wrist. Fortunately, a bone density test can help doctors assess your bone health before a fracture occurs. Knowing the strength of your bones now will allow you to take the steps necessary to avoid preventable bone loss and fractures in the years to come.
Screening for bone loss
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, also known as DEXA scanning, is the gold standard for determining patients' bone mineral density, according to Nathan Groebner, MD, a radiologist at New Ulm Medical Center. "The DEXA scanner uses a tiny amount of X-ray radiation to calculate the density of patients' bone," Groebner explained. "The lower their bone mineral density, the greater their risk for fracture."
Undergoing a DEXA scan is similar to getting an X-ray. The quick and painless test exposes patients to very low amounts of radiation. Unlike an MRI, the DEXA is also an open-air scanner, so patients are not enclosed in any way.
After being weighed, measured and answering some basic questions about their medical history, patients lie down while a scanner arm passes over their body. The scan, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, allows doctors to see if bones in the spine, hip and other parts of the body have enough calcium and minerals to remain strong.
Patients' bone mineral density is then compared to the ideal bone mineral density of a young adult in order to provide them with a T score. A T score of zero indicates healthy and strong bones. People who receive a negative score between -1 and -2.5 however, have bones that are beginning to thin. Those with a score below -2.5 have osteoporosis.
Reducing the risk for fractures
By having a bone density test, your doctor can not only assess your bone health, but also recommend ways to prevent future bone loss.
"Patients with low bone mineral density can be treated with calcium, vitamin D or other medications to protect their bone health and reduce their risk for fractures," said Groebner. "Patients with very low bone density can also alter some of their daily habits to prevent fractures."
Patients can take steps to protect their bones by engaging in activities such as weight lifting, lunges and walking, that will increase bone supporting muscle mass. Patients should avoid any activities that will increase their likelihood of falling.
When to get tested
Most women age 65 or older should have at least one bone density test. Although women are far more likely to have low bone density, men aged 70 or older are encouraged to have at least one DEXA scan in their lifetime. Those with certain risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures however, may be advised to have the test sooner and more often.
"For some people, bone loss happens much more quickly, putting them at increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures," said Groebner. "Patients with a parent who was diagnosed with osteoporosis or sustained a hip fracture are more likely to have low bone mineral density and sustain a hip fracture."
Certain medications could also exacerbate bone loss, such as anti-seizure medications and steroids. How often patients undergo a repeat scan depends on their initial bone density test, said Groebner.
Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: Nathan Groebner, MD
First Published: 02/25/2013
Last Reviewed: 02/25/2013