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Wednesday, 17 May 2006 00:00

Osteoporosis is real – get tested

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By Darcia Bondurant

I would like to think of myself as a healthy, 46-year-old woman. My weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are all good. I know I need to exercise more, but who doesn’t?

Recently, I had a DXA or DEXA (Dual Energy Xray Absorptiometry), a bone density test of the hip and spine at Haywood Regional Medical Center’s Osteoporosis Center. Since I had a normal bone-density heel test a few years ago, I thought I would sail through this exam.

I was wrong.

I was shocked to find the test revealed I had osteopenia in my spine, the precursor of osteoporosis. Basically, my bones have started to thin.

Armed with my new information, I need to take calcium and Vitamin D daily, and do weight-bearing exercises. A family history of osteoporsis can be a risk factor. In my case, my 75-year-old mother has osteoporosis, so I know I need pay close attention to my own bone health.

May is National Osteoporosis Prevention Month, which may not seem like a big deal. However, within 15 years, half of the population over the age of 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low-bone mass. Unfortunately, most of those at risk right now don’t even know they have the condition.

“Even with all the education and osteoporosis out there now, many people have not had a bone-density test after age 65, even though Medicare pays for bone-density testing in most cases. Some women, who have risk factors, would benefit from being tested earlier,” said Jeannie Shaffer, HRMC’s Osteoporosis Center Coordinator. “For the first time as of Jan. 1, Medicare will also pay for a bone density test in men 75 years old and older. At that age, men have the same risk as women.”

Though the elderly are more likely to manifest the symptoms of osteoporosis, the disease can begin quietly in young people. Risk factors include smoking, abusing alcohol, poor nutrition, lack of weight-bearing exercise and a shortage of calcium and Vitamin D. Poor nutrition and lack of weight-bearing exercise during childhood can lay the foundation for low-bone density in later years. Weak bones can lead to fractures and breaks.

During the first three months following a hip fracture, the risk of dying is significantly increased, and at the end of the first year, one in five hip-fracture patients die or end up in a nursing home without the hope of returning to independent living.

Another alarming statistic: One fourth of all postmenopausal women in the country have a vertebral compression fracture and this risk increases with age, so that by the age of 80, 40 percent of women are affected. We now know that just like hip fractures, vertebral compression fractures too are associated with an increased mortality risk in both men and women.

The state-of-the-art Osteoporosis Center at HRMC is unique in requiring special certification of its nurses who conduct bone-density measurement. A vertebral fracture assessment, when ordered by the patient’s referring physician, can detect fractures in the spinal column.

Recently, during a day of free bone-density heel tests, a 40-year-old woman and a 42-year-old woman were urged to have a DXA hip and spine test after the heel test revealed they had low-bone density.

“The heel test is not a diagnostic tool,” said Beth Worsham, Osteoporosis Center Assistant. “It is an easy site to measure that throws up a red flag if it shows low bone density. However, the heel can appear fine, but the spine or hip may not be okay.”

So, don’t wait. Have your doctor refer you for a DXA test. It’s quick. It’s painless and it may give you vital information. And if your doctor has already suggested you get a DXA, listen. And if you already have had a DXA, have one every two to three years because bone health can change quickly.

(Darcia Bondurant works in media relations at Haywood Regional Medical Center. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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