What’s bone density screening?

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Bone density screening is important for detecting osteoporosis and preventing fractures, especially in women over 65 and those at high risk. The most accurate test is DEXA, which records a T-score to determine bone loss. Treatment may include calcium supplements, a balanced diet, and exercise. Other tests are available but less efficient.

Bone density screening is the only way to determine if a patient has osteoporosis, or significant bone loss, due to depletion of minerals in the bone. It is used as a preventative measure to protect against possible fractures, particularly of the hip and spine, in women over 65 and in peri- or post-menopausal women at high risk of fractures. Bone density screenings are less suitable for men, except in cases where a bone fracture may have already occurred.

Having a bone density screening, even before menopause, is a good idea so that the patient’s doctor can refer back to these initial results against a later screening. Based on the previous test results, he will be able to determine if significant bone loss has indeed occurred and start the patient on appropriate preventive treatments. Bone loss is a condition that comes on gradually, without any symptoms. Eventually it can result in a myriad of painful and debilitating conditions, such as loss of mobility, in the case of a hip fracture, or reduced lung function, in the case of a vertebral fracture, if not detected by bone density screening, so that preventive measures can be taken. The death rate for people who suffer a hip fracture increases to 20% within the year following the event.

There are several types of painless, low-radiation bone mineral density tests available. The most commonly used, because it is believed to give the most accurate results, is DEXA, or dual energy X-ray absorption, which scans areas of the hip and spine. This bone density screening test records a T-score to determine bone loss.

If the T-score is at least minus 2.5, a diagnosis of osteoporosis is made and the patient is advised of the steps he should take to delay further bone deterioration. Your doctor may recommend regular intake of calcium-containing foods, such as milk and cheese, although in moderation, as well as a well-balanced nutritional diet that contains plenty of calcium-rich fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli. He or she may also recommend calcium supplements, in pill form. Regular exercise, which can be as basic as walking, appears to have a positive impact on bones and can reduce the likelihood of falls.

Other bone density screening tests can be done, although they are not considered as efficient as the DEXA scan. These include quantitative computed tomography (QCT), peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT), and peripheral dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (pDXA). Peripheral scans, or a quantitative ultrasound (QUS), can be used to determine bone density in the legs, fingers, wrists, forearms, and heels.

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