Osteoporosis is a condition that reduces bone strength and puts women at greater risk of breaking or fracturing a bone.
In fact, more than one in four women over the age of 65 have the disease. Symptoms are virtually non-existent and a person may not be affected by it until they break a bone.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
The following factors make a person more likely to develop the Osteoporosis:
- Gender. Women are far more likely to be affected by Osteoporosis than men. In general, women’s bones are smaller and are more vulnerable to degeneration due to hormonal changes that occur after menopause.
- Age. Bones naturally become thinner as we age. When women reach menopause, they may rapidly lose bone in the first four to eight years of menopause. For example, if a women begins menopause at 50, the most dramatic loss of bone mass may occur between 51 and 58.
- Race. Due to differences in genetic make-up, Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to be affected by Osteoporosis than African-American and Hispanic women.
- Family History. Women whose families have a history of developing Osteoporosis are more likely to develop it themselves.
DEXA Screening for Osteoporosis
Bone density is measured using a process called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or what’s commonly known as a DEXA scan. This procedure measures the density of bones in areas of the body that are prone to breaks and fractures, such as the spine, hips and forearms.
DEXA scans do not require any preparation. The patient will lie on an examination table while an x-ray scans different areas of the body. The process is painless and only takes about ten minutes to complete.
Understanding DEXA Results
In the majority of cases, the patient’s bone density will be compared to that of an average healthy young adult. The results of this comparison is called a T-score. This will help the doctor determine if the bones are normal (T-score between +1 and -1) , have lower than average mass (T-score between -1.1 and -2.4,) or Osteoporosis (T-score of -2.5 or less.)
How Often Should Scans be Performed?
Because of the exposure to radiation, DEXA scans should be completed a maximum of once every two years. Even with high-risk patients receiving treatment, doctors will monitor bone health in other ways.
Osteoporosis Treatment Options
The main goal of treatment will be to prevent fractures and breaks. In addition to recommending a proper diet rich in calcium, a doctor may prescribe medication. The following is not a list of all medication options, but simply the most commonly used:
- Bisphosphonates. This type of medication slows cell activity that is responsible for bone loss. Bisphosphonates are intended to maintain or even increase bone density.
- Parathyroid Hormone. This option is for postmenopausal women who are at high risk for fracture.
- Estrogen Agonists/Antagonists. Typically used to treat postmenopausal women, these medications are not estrogen, but they have estrogen-like effects on the body.
- Calcitonin. Meant for women who are at least five years into menopause, calcitonin helps to regulate calcium and bone metabolism.
Osteoporosis is a condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A broken bone can result in hospitalization and even surgery.
If you have concerns over your bone density and would like to schedule an appointment, please call Birmingham OBGYN at (205) 933-8334.