Bone density scan offers quick and easy assessment of bone loss

December 12, 2006
It’s a test that takes less than 15 minutes, but can provide valuable information about the strength of your bones and risk of osteoporosis. The DEXA bone density scan, offered at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Forum Diagnostic Center, uses x-rays to determine whether a person has lost bone mass. DEXA stands for “dual energy x-ray absorptiometry” and is considered the most accurate test for bone density. Unlike standard x-rays, which would only show changes in bone density after about 40 percent bone loss, the DEXA scan can detect changes as small as 1 percent. Rosemary Petersen, 74, came to the Forum for her DEXA scan after her doctor noticed some changes that needed to be investigated. “My doctor said I shrunk an inch in the last year,” said Petersen. “So I thought we should check it out.” Although Petersen’s height loss may not be the result of thinning bones, doctors recommend all women over the age of 65 be tested for osteoporosis. Women are at higher risk for osteoporosis because they have lower bone mass than men and bone loss accelerates after menopause. Those who are thin or have small frames, have an estrogen deficiency, or other risk factors, such as a family history of osteoporosis, may need to be tested before age 65. Discovering bone loss early in its development is important because thinning bones can increase the risk for frequent fractures. In serious cases, even small injuries can result in fractures. Once osteoporosis has developed, there are medications that can slow bone loss, but prevention is the best defense. “One of the really good things you can do is weight bearing exercise,” said NHRMC Radiological Technologist Jesse Campbell. “Walking is great, or anything in which you are supporting your own weight. Making sure you get enough calcium with vitamin D is also important.” To schedule a bone density scan, call 332.3321. You must first have a written order from your physician or health care provider.