Attention to bone health earlier in life can help prevent osteoporosis

Theresa Thornton’s passion for educating patients about the importance of bone health is personal.

Her grandmother had osteoporosis and died of complications from a hip fracture. Theresa, a radiology technologist who conducts bone density screenings at Washington Radiology, learned she had borderline osteopenia – which is low bone mass that can develop into osteoporosis – in her late 30s.

Osteoporosis and osteopenia cause bone to become more fragile over time, which means that even minor falls can cause fractures. They are silent diseases because often they go undetected until a bone breaks.

“I do not feel like there is enough education on the importance of bone density or bone health,” said Theresa, R.T. (R)(M)(BD). “I believe this should be emphasized starting at the pediatric level. That’s when your bones are developing and when you can help bone mass build up through exercise, spending time outside to get vitamin D and implementing a diet rich in calcium and vitamins.”

Adults reach peak bone mass at about age 30 and women start to lose bone at a much more rapid rate after menopause due to a dramatic drop in estrogen levels. One in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will experience a bone break due to osteoporosis or osteopenia.

These fractures in the hip can be very dangerous. About 20% of people who suffer hip fractures die within a year due to complications, so it’s critical to prevent those breaks.

In addition to exercising regularly and having a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, avoiding tobacco and drinking no more than two alcoholic drinks a day can support bone mass.

It’s also important to know your bone density level. A bone density screening, known as a DXA scan, is a simple test that measures bone mass, usually in the hips and lumbar spine. It determines if you have or are at risk for osteoporosis and allows you to treat bone loss before a fracture occurs.

We follow the recommendations of the International Society for Clinical Densitometry and suggest baseline bone density screenings for healthy women at age 65 and healthy men at age 70. Physicians may request bone density screenings for women younger than 65 based on certain risk factors and medical conditions.

The DXA scan is the standard for bone density screening and uses a very low amount of radiation. You will lie still on the exam table as a scanner passes over the lower spine and hip area. You won't feel anything during the exam.

Speak with your health care provider about bone density screening. A physician order is needed to schedule the exam. To schedule your appointment, please call 571-388-2759 and have your physician order ready.

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