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What is a Bone Density Screening?

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  • Written By: Barbara R. Cochran
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Bone density screening is the only way to determine if a patient has osteoporosis, or significant bone loss, due to depletion of minerals in the bone. It is used as a preventive measure to guard against possible fractures, especially of the hip and spine, in women over 65 and any peri- or post-menopausal women who are high risk for fractures. Bone density screenings are less indicated for men, except in cases where a bone fracture may have already occurred.

Undergoing a bone density screening, even prior to menopause, is a good idea so that the patient’s physician can refer back to these initial results as comparison to a screening at a later date. Based on the earlier test results, he or she will able to determine if there has actually been any significant bone loss and start the patient off on appropriate preventive treatments. Bone loss is a condition that takes place gradually, without any symptoms. It can ultimately result in a myriad of painful and debilitating conditions, such as the loss of mobility, in the case of a hip fracture, or restricted lung function, when there is a vertebral fracture, if not detected by bone density screening, so that preventive measures can be taken. The mortality rate for people who experience a hip fracture increases to 20 per cent by the year following the event.

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Several types of painless, low-radiation bone mineral density tests are available. The most commonly used, because it is believed to yield the most accurate results, is the DEXA, or dual energy X-ray absorptionmetry, which scans the hip and spine areas. This bone density screening test registers a T-score to determine the loss of bone mass.

If the T-score is at least minus 2.5, a diagnosis of osteoporosis is made, and the patient is advised of measures that he or she should take to retard further bone deterioration. The doctor may recommend regular intake of foods containing calcium, such as milk and cheese, although in moderation, in addition to a well-balanced, nutritional diet that contains a lot of fruit and calcium-rich vegetables, like broccoli. He or she may also recommend calcium supplements, in pill form. Regular exercise, which can be as basic as walking, seems to have a positive impact on bones, and can decrease the probability of falls.

Other bone density sreening tests can be performed, although they are not considered to be as efficient as the DEXA scan. These include the quantitative computed tomography (QCT), the perpipheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT), and the peripheral dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (pDXA). The peripheral scans, or a quantitative ultrasound (QUS), can be used to determine bone density in the legs, fingers, wrists, forearms, and heels.

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