Osteoporosis and Bone Densitometry
Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, in some cases becoming so brittle that even simple tasks like bending or coughing can cause a fracture. At Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, we offer bone density testing to our patients. A bone density test uses special X-rays to measure how much calcium and other bone minerals are in a segment of bone. These tests are a fairly accurate predictor of a person's risk of fractures.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeleton whereby the bones become brittle making them prone to break more easily, often with little or no trauma. Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases of the elderly. Studies show many people are not evaluated or treated for their disease, in part because they do not know they have it or understand the consequences.
There are no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis until someone has a fracture, or broken bone. Other possible symptoms include loss of height, stooping posture and shortness of breath. People who suffer osteoporosis related fractures have a higher mortality rate.
Until recently, osteoporosis could not be easily diagnosed until a fracture occurred. However, today with new technology most people who are at risk can be identified before a fracture occurs, allowing them to start appropriate treatment programs, the goal of which is to prevent fractures occurring in the first place. Even if you have already suffered a fracture, lifestyle changes and medications today can significantly reduce the risk of further fractures.
How do I know if I have osteoporosis?
There are two ways of making a diagnosis of osteoporosis:
- One way is when a “fragility fracture” has occurred. This is a broken bone that has happened with no trauma or minimal trauma, such as if you were to cough or fall to the floor from a standing position.
- Have a bone density test. Bone density (BMD) is a measurement used to estimate bone strength and the likelihood of bones to break (fracture) with simple trauma. In general, the lower the bone density, the weaker the bone, and the more likely they are to break.
What is bone densitometry?
Bone densitometry is a non-surgical method that can be used to assess fracture risk. However, it is only part of an overall assessment of fracture risk that your doctor or healthcare provider can perform.
What should I expect at the time of my bone density test?
You should wear clothing without metal, including zippers or metal buttons. Undergarments should not have metal or wire of any kind. If you wear clothing with metal (including underwire bras) you may need to change into a gown before the test can be performed. You will need to lie on your back on a table, in a comfortable position for several minutes. You should remain as still as possible during the procedure. Generally, you can resume your usual activities immediately.
Some items to consider as you prepare for your bone density test include:
- Are you pregnant? If so, tell the technologist/technician.
- Eat a normal diet on the day of the test.
- Take your medications as you normally would.
- DO NOT take calcium supplements (including tums and multivitamins with calcium) for 24 hours before the test.
- On the day of the test, leave valuables at home.
- Do not wear jewelry or body piercings to the examination.
- The test should be performed prior to oral, rectal or IV contrast studies, or at least 7 days after any of these studies.
Who should have a bone density test?
Consult with your physician or healthcare provider if you think you might benefit from knowing your bone density. Guidelines for who should undergo bone density testing are:
- All women aged 65 and older.
- All men aged 70 and older.
- Anyone with a fragility fracture.
- Anyone with a disease, condition or medication associated with osteoporosis.
- Anyone who is considering therapy for osteoporosis, if bone density testing would facilitate the decision.
- Women who have been on hormone replacement therapy for prolonged periods.
- Anyone being treated for osteoporosis, to monitor the effects of therapy.