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Osteoporosis, Osteopenia and DEXA Scans (Oh My!)

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are not new or uncommon to society, especially among women. Osteoporosis, commonly called “the silent disease,” is characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue that leads to bone fragility and a greater risk of fractures of the spine, hip and wrist. Osteopenia (low bone mass) refers to bone mineral density (BMD) that is lower than normal peak BMD but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis and Osteopenia both have no symptoms. Unless you suffer from a fracture, you will feel no pain. As you continue to lose bone mass, the risk factors for a fracture increases.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 9 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis and 48 million have low bone mass. Thankfully, taking some simple steps earlier in life can go a long way in preventing osteoporosis and osteopenia in the future:

  • Get enough calcium: Dairy products such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and green vegetables.
  • Get enough Vitamin D: Supplements are usually essential. However, sunlight and foods such as fatty fish, dairy products, orange juice and cereal can help.
  • Exercise regularly: Jogging/running, stair climbing, elliptical machines, fast walking on a treadmill or outside, dancing and jumping rope (always check with your doctor first before beginning any exercise routine.)
  • Get a baseline DEXA scan (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) to help determine osteoporosis or low bone mass. The current guidelines are 65 for women and 70 for men, although multiple risks can require an earlier screening.
  • Take measures to prevent a fall: Keep floors clutter-free, wear low-heeled shoes, keep stairwells well lit and consider wearing hip pads.

Being aware of the following signs and symptoms of osteoporosis my benefit your health:

  • Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra.
  • Loss of height over time.
  • Stooped or hunched posture.
  • A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected.

A DEXA scan is the most common screening test for osteoporosis. It measures whether you have normal bone density or low bone density with a strong focus in the lower spine, hip and wrist region. The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s guidelines state that postmenopausal women 65 and older and men 70 and older should be tested, although other factors can determine earlier screenings. Routine checkups every two-five years may be needed to identify if there has been an increase or decrease in bone mineral density. The DEXA scan is non-invasive and painless and will last 10-15 minutes. During the test, patients will lie fully clothed on a padded table while the DEXA scanner beams X-rays from two sources toward the bone being examined. Results can: 

  • Detect low bone density before a fracture occurs
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis
  • Predict your chances of a fracture
  • Determine the rate of bone loss and monitor the effects of treatment

The Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County, led by Barry Jacobson, M.D., is dedicated to the detection and comprehensive treatment of osteoporosis. Each patient’s treatment plan is customized to meet his or her individual needs. Services include DEXA scan interpretation and metabolic screenings, and available treatments include infusions, injectables and other medications.

The Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County has two locations, Delaware County Memorial Hospital and Crozer Medical Plaza at Brinton Lake. In addition, two more locations at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and Taylor Hospital will be available this September. To learn more about the Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County, or to make an appointment, call (610) 394-4755.

Reviewed by Barry Jacobson, M.D., Crozer-Keystone gynecologist and medical director of the Osteoporosis Center of Delaware County.

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