Osteoporosis Center

Understanding Osteoporosis

The physicians of Northwest Rheumatology Associates specialize in Osteoporosis assessment and treatment. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, or fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine and wrist.

Eight million American women and two million men are estimated to have osteoporosis, and an additional estimated 34 million more have low bone density. This number represents 55 percent of people aged 50 and older in the United States. While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person’s disease, it can strike at any age. Osteoporosis is not part of normal aging although many people continue to believe this is true.

Symptoms

Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak a sudden strain, bump or fall causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. Collapsed vertebrae may initially be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height or spinal deformities such as kyphosis (stooped posture).

Diagnosis

To determine if you have osteoporosis or may be at risk for the disease, your doctor will ask you a variety of questions about your lifestyle, medical history and family history. Based on a comprehensive medical assessment, your doctor may recommend you have your bone mass measured. Bone mass measurement is the only way to tell if you have osteoporosis. Specialized tests called bone density tests (one of which is known as a DEXA) can measure bone density in various sites of the body. 
A bone density test can:

  • Detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs
  • Predict your chances of fracturing in the future
  • Determine your rate of bone loss and/or monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more.

What is a DEXA?

A dexa is a state-of-art dual energy x-ray, to scan the spine and hip to detect early bone loss.  A DEXA has a very low radiation exposure rate, approximately 1/10th of a chest x-ray by comparison.  Patients are asked to lay on a padded exam table for approximately 5 minutes while the technician takes measurements of the spine and hip.  The test is a simple, painless, noninvasive procedure.

Prevention

Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis later. There are four steps to prevent osteoporosis. No one step alone is enough to prevent osteoporosis, but all four may.

  1. A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
  2. Weight-bearing exercise
  3. A healthy lifestyle with no smoking or excessive alcohol intake
  4. Bone density testing and medication when appropriate