Osteoporosis is a disease that involves a gradual loss of calcium from bones, causing the bones to become thinner, more fragile, and more likely to break. Bones such as the hips, spine and wrist are most likely to be affected, but all bones are at risk. Over time, these fractures may lead to a loss of function, and may require surgery or prolonged hospitalization.
The DEXA Scan
Gulf Coast Obstetrics and Gynecology operates our own in-office DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) machine offering convenient and state-of-the-art screening for osteoporosis.
The DEXA scan works like a chest or dental x-ray. It sends a thin, invisible beam of low-dose x-rays with two distinct energy peaks through your bones. One peak is absorbed mainly by soft tissue and the other by bone. The soft tissue amount can be subtracted from the total and what remains is your bone mineral density. It is a quick, safe, and easy way to diagnose osteoporosis. DEXA bone densitometry is today's established standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD) and the amount of radiation used is extremely small—less than one-tenth the dose of a standard chest x-ray.
The DEXA scan can help assess your risk for developing fractures. If your bone density is found to be low, we will suggest a number of treatment options that can be instituted to help prevent fractures before they occur.
The Day of the Test
Preparing for a DEXA scan is easy. You may eat and drink as usual before your visit, but you should not take any calcium supplements for 24 hours before your test. Also: Wear comfortable, loose clothing, such as sweat pants and a T-shirt. Do not wear clothing with metal, such as zippers, snaps, buttons or buckles. Also, do not wear any jewelry.
If you are taking calcium supplements, stop taking them for 48 hours before your test. If you are taking any medications for Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, do not take them the day of your test.
For the test itself, you simply lie on a cushioned bed while a scanner arm passes over your body. The entire process takes about 20 minutes. The DEXA scan that we order will perform measurements of your lower spine and hips. These 2 sites are considered the standard of care.
A word of caution: There are some portable devices that measure the wrist, fingers or heels to determine BMD. These test results are not considered accurate enough and Gulf Coast Obstetrics and Gynecology does not recommend these scans at this time.
Your test results will be in the form of two scores:
T score — This number shows the amount of bone you have compared with a young adult of the same gender with peak bone mass. A score above -1 is considered normal. A score between -1 and -2.5 is classified as osteopenia, the first stage of bone loss. A score below -2.5 is defined as osteoporosis. It is used to estimate your risk of developing a fracture.
Z score — This number reflects the amount of bone you have compared with other people in your age group and of the same size and gender. If it is unusually high or low, it may indicate a need for further medical tests.
Our office will obtain your results and you will be contacted by one of our staff or our Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Miller. She can then arrange consultation to discuss the various treatment options if any abnormalities are found.
For more information about osteoporosis, your risks, and fracture prevention, please visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Image courtesy of The 2004 Surgeon Generals Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2004