Modern medicine has yet to create a crystal ball that can predict future health problems, but it has created useful tests and screenings that can provide a roadmap. These “maps” are tools that let patients know which diseases are most likely to present challenges to their health. This is where internal medicine is brought in. A bone density scan is an important tool in determining your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when bones become brittle and/or your body makes too little bone. This weakens them, making them more likely to break. In serious cases, something as simple as sneezing can cause minor fractures. Osteoporosis also causes several complications, including:
- Serious hip fractures that can cause disability
- Spinal compression fractures. These occur when your vertebrae weaken and crumble.
- Severe back pain
- Hunched posture
What is a bone density scan?
These scans use X-rays to determine how much calcium is in bone. Bones with more calcium are more dense, and therefore, less likely to break. Not only can this confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis, but it also alerts your local doctor about decreasing bone density before you break a bone. These scans are also vital to monitor the progress of any osteoporosis treatment. Most bone density scans can be easily performed in your local doctor’s office in Raleigh or Cary.
Do I need a bone density scan?
A bone density scan should be a part of your regular annual physical if you have any of the risk factors below:
- You’re a woman. While 1 in 5 men develop osteoporosis, 1 in 3 women will develop the disease.
- You have hormonal imbalances. Reduced estrogen from menopause or a hysterectomy increases your risk of osteoporosis. Bone loss can also occur if you have thyroid problems or overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.
- You have dietary issues. Inadequate calcium, eating disorders and gastric bypass surgery can reduce the nutrients your body absorbs, including calcium.
- You lead a sedentary lifestyle. Office workers or those who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk.
- You’ve lost height. Loss of bone mass in your spine can cause you to become shorter.
- You’ve broken a bone. While this does not always indicate osteoporosis, it’s important to talk with your local health care provider for further evaluation.
- You’re 50 or older. Osteoporosis can occur at any age, but seniors are at far greater risk.
How do you treat osteoporosis?
Treatment methods depend upon how many risk factors you have, the results of a bone density scan, and the extent of any bone loss. Treatment may include lifestyle choices, such as getting more exercise or changing your diet. If your risk is higher, your doctor may prescribe medications called bisphosphonates that help rebuild bone. For postmenopausal women, hormone therapy may also be an option because estrogen can maintain bone density. However, because there are also risks associated with hormone therapy, your local internal medicine physical will have to weigh the benefits versus risks.
Osteoporosis can cause serious fractures and extensive pain that may require surgery. The best treatment is to detect the disease in its early stages, before broken bones make it more difficult. The first step is a bone density scan. Talk to your doctor about the benefits of adding this screening to your yearly physical.