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Fighting the 'silent disease'

Hospital purchases bone density scanner

Staff writer

In the past, those prescribed a bone density test had to wait until a mobile unit came to town once a month or go to another facility.

No more.

St. Luke Hospital of Marion recently purchased a bone density scanner which is available whenever the patient needs it.

According to radiology department director Joe Pickett, this is yet another way to provide preventive services.

“Medicine is moving more toward preventive care instead of waiting until after the fact,” Pickett said.

With this painless, simple test, a patient can be diagnosed which could lead to treatment for low bone mass before a hip is fractured or compression fractures occur in the spine.

As people get older, particularly females, the bone mass may become “shallow” which could result in compression fractures.

One common occurrence is when the hip may actually break on its own because of low bone density, causing the person to fall.

“There are times when a fall doesn’t cause a hip to break,” Pickett said.

Manufactured by GE, the unit can scan the lumbar and lower thoracic spine and assess the patient’s risk factor.

The unit can be used for any age group.

“There are pediatric cases for those on steroids or other factors that may cause a bone density issue,” Pickett said.

Risk factors

While anyone can develop osteoporosis, the common cause of bone density loss, some factors that may put individuals at increased risks are:

  • Age 50 or older.
  • Female.
  • Family history of broken bones.
  • Personal history of broken bones.
  • Caucasian or Asian ethnicity.
  • Small-bone structure.
  • Low body weight (less than 127 pounds).
  • Frequent smoking or drinking.
  • Low-calcium diet.

Bone mass measurements

Bone density usually is studied by using one of various types of diagnostic bone mass measurement techniques. Bone density can be measured at the wrist, spine, hip, or calcaneus (heel).

Various single and combined methods of measurement may be required to diagnose bone disease, monitor the course of bone changes with disease progression, or monitor the course of bone changes with therapy.

How it works

The testing uses a low amount of radiation.

“You’ll notice the monitor is next to the scanner,” Picket said, indicating there is no danger of technicians being over-exposed to radiation; thus the patient has less chance of being harmed from exposure.

An overhead scanner takes an image of the affected area with the information stored in a computer for examination by a radiologist.

Having the scan completed once a year is recommended. Medicare will pay for a scan every two years unless a patient meets specific criteria for having it more often.

The scanner has been around for about 15 years, Pickett said, and assists physicians in diagnosing conditions, particularly osteoporosis.

“X-rays can detect osteoporosis but by then its more advanced,” Pickett said.

What can be done for osteoporosis?

Vitamins and other medications can correct or at least reduce the symptoms of the condition. Ideally, stopping further bone loss is the optimum solution.

“In some cases, I’ve actually seen some bone density increase,” Pickett said. “It’s a silent disease that you don’t know you have until something happens like after a bone breaks.”

Another test the unit can perform is the measurement of body mass index.

“This is important to establish a base line for patients with specific diseases that cause tissue and muscle loss,” Pickett said.

Last modified Nov. 19, 2008

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