Women’s imaging: A focus on bone densitometry and osteoporosis
Women’s imaging is about more than mammography and breast ultrasound. It also includes bone densitometry – a medical exam that assesses bone mineral density and is used to diagnose osteoporosis. As healthcare professionals worldwide mark World Osteoporosis Day on 20 October, we answer some common questions about the disease, its diagnosis, prevention and management.
What is osteoporosis and why should I be informed about it?
Osteoporosis entails the weakening of a person’s bones to the point where they become porous and prone to fracturing. Because this weakening happens gradually through many years, and can go undetected for decades, osteoporosis is often called the silent crippler. Sadly, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA), it is often only diagnosed when older patients experience a fracture that affects their mobility and independence.
Their statistics show that, In South Africa, one in three women and one in five men will possibly develop this disease within their lifetime.
Osteoporosis risk factors
Some risk factors, such as gender, age and the patient’s family history, cannot be changed. Others, however, can be limited from a young age in an attempt to avoid osteoporosis fractures, says the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF). These include bad diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excessively low body weight and eating disorders, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Prevention starts at a young age
Lifestyle choices like a healthy diet and active lifestyle are among the most important precautions you can take. Mareli Conradie, a registered dietitian from the Western Cape, says adequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D is vital. Considering that bone density reaches its peak when you’re in your twenties, the intake of these nutrients should form part of a balanced diet from childhood but, naturally, should also be kept up in adulthood. One should also avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine intake.
Biokineticist Hermien Kruger adds that regular weightbearing exercise, and activities that can strengthen a person’s muscles, contribute to building and maintaining bone density. Other benefits of regular exercise is improved muscle tone, posture and balance, which in themselves lower the risk of falling and possible fractures. A word of caution, though: It is important to consult a medical professional before you start a new exercise regime, especially if you are already at risk of suffering a fracture.
Testing for osteoporosis, and why it’s an important part of women’s imaging
Dr Johan Blomerus, a radiologist at SCP says there are different ways of assessing bone mineral density in patients who are referred by their doctors. However, the most widely used method is a DXA scan, which utilises X-ray technology and measures bone density in the spine and hips.
To read more about the procedure itself, click here.
The results are then combined with other indicators to determine the patient’s fracture risk and relevant treatment and management options.
Regular screening is recommended for women older than 65 and men older than 70, except when other risk factors are present and would necessitate assessment from a younger age. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor for personal advice on this.
The treatment and management of osteoporosis
The IOF emphasises that a diagnosis does not have to be a life sentence. “The right medication and lifestyle changes can help you manage osteoporosis and maintain an active lifestyle,” it says.
NOFSA encourages men and women of all ages to visit www.buildbetterbones.org for more comprehensive information, to get to know the importance of bone health, to do its free online risk assessment and to talk to their doctor about booking a bone density screening or DXA scan if necessary. Bone densitometry services are offered at SCP’s Tygervalley Mammography Centre, as well as its branches in Durbanville and Worcester.
• This article is intended to create awareness and none of the information it contains should replace the need for seeking personal advice from a professional medical practitioner.