What is it?  Osteoporosis, whose name comes from the Greek phrase meaning “porous bones,” is exactly that – a thinning and weakening of the bones in the body. 

How many people are affected? Osteoporosis affects 55% of Americans over the age of 50. Of these, 80% are women. About half of all women over the age of 50 will suffer a broken bone due to osteoporosis. 

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis? Being a woman, advanced age, and a family history of osteoporosis are all risk factors for the disease. Women of Asian or European descent, who are past menopause, are at the highest risk, but osteoporosis affects both men and women and can be caused by certain diseases

What are the dangers of osteoporosis? Because osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, they are in danger of breaking or fracturing even with very little impact. Coughing or bending over can cause fractures when bones are weak. Osteoporosis-related fractures occur most commonly in the hip, wrist or spine. 

How is osteoporosis diagnosed? The disease is diagnosed using a DXA (Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry) bone density scan. The scan uses two kinds of low-energy X-rays that produce images showing bone mineral density. From this scan, doctors are able to tell how likely it is that a patient will suffer a bone fracture. Based on the scan, physicians come up with a score which indicates whether a patient has osteoporosis, osteopenia (a milder precursor to osteoporosis), or normal bone density. 

Is the test painful? No! The test is fast (15-20 minutes total) and painless. It simply measures the bone mineral density in the bones of your spine, hip and wrist – the places most likely to be affected by osteoporosis. 

Are there other tests done for osteoporosis? Yes. Lateral Vertebral Assessment, used for patients over 50 years old, can identify spine fractures. This scan is also painless and quick. It may be recommended for patients who have unexplained back pain, borderline DXA results, or those who are older and have lost over an inch of height. Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology offers both DXA and Lateral Vertebral Assessment scans. 

Are there treatments for osteoporosis? Yes. There are various medications that can be prescribed for patients diagnosed with osteoporosis. 

Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk? Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, are helpful in creating/maintaining bone density. Smoking increases bone loss, so if you smoke, quit now. Excessive alcohol may decrease bone formation – stick to no more than one drink per day. Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.

Wondering what your risk factors are?  Take this interactive quiz and find out! Are you concerned about developing osteoporosis? Tell us in the comments! Also, be sure to discuss with your doctor if scheduling a DXA is appropriate for you.