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Dr. Bruce Tharp is a breast imaging radiologist at ARA. He attended Texas Tech School of Medicine and did his residency at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. He is certified in diagnostic radiology by the American Board of Radiology.

Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, is a common condition that can happen as we age. It’s a silent disease, with no warning symptoms, and sometimes the first time you know you have it is when you get a bone fracture. Even at that point, there are steps you can take (literally!), but it’s far better to catch osteoporosis early so you can take advantage of the many ways to preserve and build bone mineral content. A simple diagnostic scan called bone densitometry can give you the information you need to take care of your bones.

Who should have a bone densitometry exam?

  • The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a bone densitometry exam if:
  • You are a woman age 65 or older or a man age 70 or older
  • You break a bone after age 50
  • You are a woman of menopausal age with risk factors
  • You are a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors
  • You are a man age 50-69 with risk factors

What are osteoporosis and osteopenia?

Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become fragile and brittle because the body is losing bone too fast and/or not replacing bone fast enough. Bone tissue is structured like a honeycomb, but when osteoporosis occurs, the spaces in the honeycomb are larger and the structure can become abnormal, making bones weaker. You may also hear the term “osteopenia,” which is the condition preceding osteoporosis characterized by less severe bone loss.

Risk factors for osteoporosis

Risk factors include a family history of osteoporosis, being white or Asian, taking certain medications and having certain diseases or conditions. However, anyone who is aging can get osteoporosis, regardless of risk factors, so it is good to keep an eye on your bone density.

How is osteoporosis treated?

Treatments depend on the amount of bone loss and start with simple changes to your life, like doing more weight-bearing exercise (walking and lifting weights), adding more calcium and vitamin D to your diet and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol. If your bone loss is more advanced, your provider may recommend one of a number of medications that have been proven to help with osteoporosis.

As radiologists, we see a lot of people come in with fractures who have had osteoporosis for some time. We are very happy when we see you here for your bone densitometry exam. Next time you see your health care provider, have a talk about it and see if it’s time to check your bone mineral density.

What is bone densitometry?

A low-dose X-ray exam that measures bone mineral content and density. Higher bone mineral content and density mean bones are stronger and less likely to break. Usually, the exam consists of two X-rays of the lower spine and upper hip and femur. If you have metal or prosthetics in that area the technologist can image your wrist instead. Bone densitometry is simple, fast and painless.

How are the results of the exam delivered?

Your report will be sent to your referring provider within three business days of your exam, often sooner. You will be also able to view your results online through the ARA patient portal within three business days after the exam. The report will show results for the lumbar spine, femoral neck and total hip or forearm using three assessments:

  • Bone mineral density (BMD). The lower the score the greater the risk for fracture.
  • T-score, a measurement of the difference between your BMD and that of a young adult population of the same sex and ethnicity.
  • Z-score, a measurement of the difference between your BMD and that of a healthy population of the same age, sex and ethnicity.

You can then discuss the results with your provider and determine if you need to take action to prevent bone loss.

The first step to getting this exam is to visit your health care provider and talk about your risk factors. If you both decide you should have it, your provider will refer you to ARA. Schedule by calling 512.453.6100 or visiting Bone densitometry is available at ARA locations all over Central Texas.

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