Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density decreases, making bones brittle and prone to fracture. Approximately 50 percent of women over age 50 have this disease and are at risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture. Osteoporosis has been called the "silent thief" because there are no early warning signs and few outward indications of the disease until a fracture occurs, typically at the hip, spine, or wrist. A woman's risk of hip fracture alone is equal to the combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. The consequences of this disease can be devastating. Each year, osteoporosis is accountable for more than 1.3 million fractures.
Major risk factors for osteoporosis are:
- Early menopause (prior to age 45)
- Low calcium intake
- Inactive lifestyle
- Caucasian/Asian ethnicity
- Family history of fractures in older women
- Thin or small bones
- Corticosteroid use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Testing for osteoporosis
DEXA is a precise, complete measurement of bone density, and is indicated for women with any of the risk factors listed above.
A "DEXA scan" painlessly measures the bone density of the lumbar spine and hips. The exam is performed while the patient lies fully clothed on a flat padded table. A moveable arm passes over common fracture sites such as the hip and lower spine. The radiation exposure is very minimal, less than 1/100 the dosage of a chest X-ray. During the exam a technologist remains in the room at all times.
With a DEXA test, no special preparation is involved, no injection or medications are given, and the entire exam is performed in approximately 15 minutes.
The test will measure your bone mineral density (BMD) or bone mass, and compare that number with a reference population whose age, sex, and racial background are similar to yours. This information will then be provided to your primary care physician to determine if any specific steps need to be taken to protect your bone health. It also assists in predicting the risk of future bone fractures.