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April 25, 2018

Bone Density Test Can Spot Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis weakens bones, which means fractures are more likely, and they can even be caused by small bumps or sneezing.

Patients Can Find Out If They Have Disease

Osteoporosis weakens bones, which means fractures are more likely, and they can even be caused by small bumps or sneezing.

An estimated 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and studies estimate 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men over age 50 will break a bone due to the disease. A number of factors cause osteoporosis, such as low estrogen levels, a decrease in calcium and vitamin D intake, certain medications, smoking and anorexia nervosa.

“Osteoporosis is a serious disease, especially in older people who can easily break a hip during a fall and then need to go into assisted living or a nursing home to recover,” said Zachary Baeseman, MD, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca. “Some people with osteoporosis can also experience a lot of pain.”

Previously, the disease was diagnosed only after someone broke a bone, but a screening test is now available to determine if a person has osteoporosis so steps can be taken to prevent further bone deterioration, he said. A bone density test uses x-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone materials are packed in a segment of bone. The most commonly tested bones are in the spine and hip.

“The test is painless and can be done pretty quickly,” Dr. Baeseman said. “The test looks at the mineral content in your bones. The higher the content, the denser your bones. If your bones are dense, they are stronger and less likely to break.”

A bone density test may be recommended if a patient has lost at least 1.6 inches in height; has taken certain steroids, such as prednisone, for a long period of time; had a drop in hormone levels; or when a bone breaks easier than expected.

If test results show a patient has osteoporosis, several medications can be taken to slow bone loss and encourage bone growth, Dr. Baeseman said. “The goal of treatment is to lower the risk of bone fractures,” he said. “There are medications we can prescribe that strengthen bones and some that slow the resorption of bone in the bloodstream.”

Patients with osteoporosis or at risk of developing osteoporosis are encouraged to do weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, and to eat food rich in calcium since both increase bone density. “Bone is living tissue and is constantly being replaced so medication and making changes, such as adding more calcium to your diet can make a big difference in preventing future fractures,” Dr. Baeseman said.

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.