Osteoporosis Screening: If a Portable Scanner Indicates Bone Loss

Lila de Tantillo Health Guide
  • You're concerned about your bone health. Perhaps you've heard the worrisome statistics - that up to half of postmenopausal women, and a quarter of older men, develop osteoporosis. So on a whim, you decide to get a screening from a portable device that measures the bone density in your finger or heel. But if you get your results and they're not particularly good, what do you do next?


    Also read Dr. Neil Gonter's SharePost comparing DEXA and Bone Density Scans. 


    According to Dr. Elana Oberstein, a South Florida rheumatologist, the first thing you should do if you get a troubling result from a portable scan is make an appointment with a physician. You could see either your primary doctor, or a specialist such as a rheumatologist or orthopedic surgeon. If you like, you may bring the results of the preliminary scan with you. But most doctors will probably prefer to get more definitive information from the "gold standard" of Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, often called DEXA or DXA.

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    Unlike the portable scan, which is usually given for free or a nominal charge, DXA - which measures bone density in the hip and the spine - doesn't come cheap. But many experts, Dr. Oberstein among them, say it's definitely worth it.


    "Bone densitometry is critical, and it is an extremely specialized field," says Dr. Oberstein, who recommends patients also undergo comprehensive blood and urine tests in addition to the DXA. This is important to rule out the possibility of other underlying conditions, such as thyroid disorders, that could be contributing to the bone loss and would need to be treated as well.


    Dr. Oberstein notes that the extra tests are important in case the results of your DXA prompt your doctor to recommend drug therapy to combat osteoporosis. If the patient is suffering from a calcium or Vitamin D deficiency, taking a bisphosphonate - often the medication of choice for osteoporosis patients - can actually be detrimental. Furthermore, it is necessary to verify the status of a patient's kidney function prior to initiating certain medication regimens.


    In addition to prompting you to seek out medical attention, a concerning heel or finger scan should serve as a wake-up call in your day-to-day life. Even if your DXA comes back with better results than expected (for example, say you are diagnosed with osteopenia, a level or reduced bone mass that is less serious than full-fledged osteoporosis), this information may be a prime motivator for taking care of your bone health.


    Make sure you consume the recommended amounts of calcium and Vitamin D - the National Osteoporosis Foundation now recommends for those 50 and older 1,200 mg of calcium daily and 1,000 IU of Vitamin D daily. Try to engage in regular weight-bearing exercise, and cut out smoking and excessive drinking.


    These common sense measures are not only beneficial for your entire body, but may help to stave off further decreases in bone mass over the years. And of course, you should continue to remain vigilant about your bone health and consult with your doctor annually about your status.

Published On: October 02, 2007