A bone density scan should be done to
help gauge the brittleness of your bones. Do not wait until a fracture
to go for a scan. Both men and women begin losing bonemass in their
30s and 40s, but women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis
compared to men, as bone loss accelerates after the menopause.
Osteoporosis is a bone-thinning disease that occurs when the body can
no longer replace bone as quickly as it loses it. Bones become
thinner, more brittle, less dense and more likely to fracture or crack
in a knock or fall.
There are normally no signs or symptoms of the Osteoporosis disease
until a fracture occurs. For example, in vertebrate fracture cases,
only a third will experience any symptoms.
There are various ways to measure bone density to determine future
fracture risk. The gold standard is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).
This scan involves lying down on a couch, fully clothed, for 15
minutes, while your bones are x-rayed. The dose of x-ray is very
minimal, about one-sixth of a chest x-ray.
DEXA is available at most hospitals and is also useful in monitoring
the effects of treatment. Another commonly used method is through
quantitative ultrasound (QUS). More widely available than the DEXA, it
is a quick way to assess bone mass by measuring the ankle bone.
However, QUS is unable to measure the bone mineral content is not used
for monitoring bone loss, and thus not considered the method to
diagnose osteoporosis. A low bone mass indicates a need for preventive
therapy or referral to a DEXA scan. Conventional X-ray is an
insensitive method for measuring bone loss but it is very useful in
the diagnosis of fractures that may be indicative of osteoporosis.
Physical signs that you may have weak bones include previous fractures
(often of the wrist, hip or spine), a loss of height or stooping, and
a curved spine. If your doctor doubts their strength you may need a
bone density scan to check on this. Sometimes, the initial sign of
osteoporosis is a loss of height or the beginnings of a humped back
caused by a collapse of weakened vertebrae. However, there are usually
no symptoms until a fracture occurs.
Osteoporosis may manifest itself in painful swelling of a joint
after a minor fall. You should consult a health professional if:
- a sprain does not improve after four days of home treatment.
- there is a lot of swelling or bruising after a minor fall.
Assess your risk. Most women are robbed of their bones after
menopause. This inevitable los accelerates for women after reaching
menopause, when they no longer produce a hormone called estrogen,
which prevents the body from drawing too much calcium from bones.
Without estrogen, women become highly vulnerable to bone loss. But
there are also many other factors that can lead to osteoporosis. Some
people are more at risk than others.
The following are the risk factors of brittle bones:
- previous fracture due to osteoporosis
- being female
- family history of osteoporosis
- being aged 50 years or older
- having your ovaries removed or reaching menopause before the age of
- being thin or 'small boned'
- Asian or Caucasian ancestry
- too little calcium in your diet - less than four servings of dairy
products a day
- alcohol (more than four standard drinks a day)
- less than 30 minutes outdoors in sunlight each day
- less than 30 minutes of physical activity each day
- long term use of some medications, such as steroids (cortisone,
prednisone) or anticonvulsants.
Your doctor can help you assess your risk for osteoporosis from your
medical history and by asking you about your lifestyle. You may
require a regular schedule of bone-density scans to monitor the
condition of your bones.
If you are concerned about your risk factors, signs or symptoms, or
are nearing or past menopause, discuss them with your doctor. It may
be a really good time to get your bones scanned.