New bone density machine in use at hospital

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 04/08/97.

Osteoporosis, often referred to as the "fragile bone" disease, is a silent condition that affects 25 million Americans, 80 percent of those being women. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the people affected by the disease are aware they have it. Once osteoporosis has developed into its later stages, there are few options available for maintaining an independent lifestyle.

Fortunately, medical science recently developed the bone density machine, a piece of technology that is able to detect osteoporosis in its earliest stages, making further prevention possible.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System is the only medical facility in Minnesota west of St. Cloud's Centra Care, to have purchased this machine.

What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that gradually weakens bones, especially in the spine, wrists, and hips, making them fragile and likely to break. People with this disease often lose inches off their height and can develop a deformed backbone that curves forward, referred to as a "dowager's hump." The reason for this particular condition is, after bone mass is lost and not replaced, the bones become extremely porous with large holes in their structure. When this happens, the spine collapses in length and durability. Bone loss can also lead to small breaks in the spine caused by nothing more than coughing or lifting a bag of groceries.

In women, bone density loss is caused by lowered production of the hormone estrogen during and after menopause. During the first five years after menopause some women lose as much as 25 percent of their bone density.

Bone mineral density tests
A bone mineral density test (BMD) uses small amounts of radiation, usually less than a standard chest X-ray, to determine the thickness of the spine, hip, or wrist.

BMD tests are more sensitive than an ordinary X-ray and can diagnose bone loss at an earlier stage. An average X-ray can not detect bone loss until at least 30 percent of bone mass has already been lost.

A BMD test is simple, safe, noninvasive, and painless. In most cases the individual will not need to undress, and unlike a bone scan which is used to identify bone abnormalities, a BMD does not require an injection of radioactive material or other special preparations, medications, or injections. Tests of the spine, arm, or hip usually take only two to five minutes each, and the individual is able to wear their own comfortable clothes.

Who is at risk?
Even if a person excercises, gets enough calcium, and has no symptoms, it does not mean they will never develop osteoporosis. Many women have it for years and don't realize it until they break a bone.

Major risk factors for osteoporosis are: family history of osteoporosis, menopause in women before the age of 45, previous broken bones, Caucasian or Asian descent, thin or small build, use of certain medication, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and not enough exercise and calcium.

Even if none of these risk factors apply, a woman may still be at risk; menopause is the single most important cause of osteoporosis.

There are several things women can do to slow down future bone loss. It is vitally important to get calcium and vitamin D every day before the age of 35 while bones are still growing. After menopause, calcium can't build stronger bones, but it can slow bone loss.

Premenopausal women over the age of 25, and postmenopausal women on hormone therapy need 1000 mg. of calcium a day (One glass of milk contains about 300 mg.). Postmenopausal women who are not on hormone therapy, and women over 65 need 1500 mg. a day. Even though calcium cannot stop bone loss, it can greatly slow the process.

Preserve your independence
Remember, if osteoporosis is diagnosed early, there are more possible treatments available to build bone mass and reduce the risk of fractures, and medical science is creating new treatment options all the time.

To receive the latest information on osteoporosis and bone density testing by mail, either for yourself or family, call 1-800-742-3308. Paynesville Area Health Care System also has further information on osteoporosis and various treatments at 1-800-242-3767.

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