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Osteoporosis and Bone Densitometry

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeleton where the bones become brittle, making them prone to breaking with little or no trauma. This means that simple things like coughing, getting out of a chair, or falling from a standing height can result in a broken bone (i.e., a fracture). Although osteoporosis can occur in both men and women of any age, it is more common in older individuals and in women. 

Osteoporosis affects over 200 million people worldwide, and in the United States, more than 2 million osteoporotic fractures occur each year. 

There are no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis until someone has a fracture. Fractures can cause pain and disability. People who suffer osteoporosis related fractures are more likely to develop another fracture in the future, and they also have a higher risk of dying due to complications from a fracture. 

Fortunately, there are screening tests to diagnose osteoporosis and many treatments available to help reduce the risk of fracture once osteoporosis has been identified.

What is bone densitometry?

Bone densitometry is a non-invasive test used to help diagnose osteoporosis and monitor the effects of osteoporosis therapy. Bone density offers a way to estimate bone strength and the likelihood of bones to break. It is a painless test that uses very low dose X-ray and does not require any injections, medications, or contrast materials.

Who should have a bone density test?

Consult with your physician if you think you might benefit from a bone density test. The National Osteoporosis Foundation currently recommends this test for:

  • Women age 65 and older
  • Men age 70 and older
  • Anyone with a prior low-trauma fracture
  • Anyone with a disease or condition associated with osteoporosis
  • Anyone taking medication known to cause osteoporosis
  • Anyone considering therapy for osteoporosis, if bone density testing would facilitate the decision
  • Anyone being treated for osteoporosis, to monitor the effects of therapy

How should I prepare for a bone density test?

  1. Eat a normal diet on the day of the test.
  2. Take your medications as you normally would.
  3. DO NOT take calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before the test.
  4. On the day of the test, leave valuables at home.
  5. Do not wear jewelry or body piercings to the examination.
  6. Avoid wearing clothing with metal, such as metal buttons or zippers, or undergarments that contain metal such as an underwire bra. If you wear clothing with metal, you may be asked to change into a gown before the test can be performed.
  7. The test should be performed prior to oral, rectal or IV contrast studies, or at least 7 days after any of these studies.

Please note: if you may be pregnant, please inform the technologist or call our office to postpone the testing.

What should I expect at the time of my bone density test?

During the exam, you will be asked to lie on your back on a padded table for several minutes while the technologist scans your lower back and hip, and sometimes your arm. When scanning the hip, you may be asked to assist the technologist by rotating your hip internally. For the lower back (lumbar area), you may be asked to bend and elevate your knees which will rest on a block, or you may remain in a flat position. You can breathe normally but should remain as still as possible during the procedure. Your forearm scan may be performed while sitting in a chair next to the machine.

What is Vertebral Fracture Assessment (VFA)?

VFA is a test done to look for fractures in the mid and lower spine. It is performed on the same machine and at the same time as the bone density test. It is considered an important screening tool because vertebral fractures often do not cause pain and many people do not know they have one. If a vertebral fracture is found, you are at higher risk of having another fracture anywhere in your body. If the VFA shows a fracture, it is important to see your doctor right away for further evaluation and treatment.

Who should have a VFA?

The National Osteoporosis Foundation currently recommends VFA testing for:

  • Women age 70 and older
  • Men age 80 and older
  • Anyone with significant loss of height
  • Postmenopausal women younger than age 70, or men age 50 -79 who have had a prior low-trauma fracture
  • Anyone taking long-term steroid medication such as Prednisone