Many women are missing out on an important bone density screening due to lack of information regarding the process, according to a radiology technologist at Medical City North Hills. Experts say some of the confusion surrounds who should have bone density screening and at what age, cost, radiation exposure, and questions about follow-up.
“A bone density screening is a rather simple procedure which looks for signs of osteoporosis – thinning and compressing of bones – due to the loss of calcium,” explains Teresa Lindsey, a registered radiation technologist at Medical City North Hills’ Women’s Imaging Center.
About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density. Approximately 50 percent of women and up to 25 percent of men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Bone density screening can help diagnose osteoporosis and indicate low bone density. People with low bone density are more likely to break a bone because their bone density is lower than normal but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis.
The screening itself is quick and painless and requires no prior preparation or medications. The screening machine hovers over the body and focuses on the spine and hips -- bones that provide the most accurate indication of bone loss.
Experts say women worried about radiation can also be assured that the exposure is very small.
“You’re not getting any more radiation exposure from this than you get walking in the sun or the background radiation we get everyday just living on the earth,” said Lindsey. “There’s not even enough exposure that medical providers have to wear aprons or be behind a shield.”
Once screened, results are categorized as green, yellow and red, with red indicating bone density concerns. Often, results are available before you leave the physician’s office.
“If your results land in the middle or yellow section, some doctors will put their patients on medication,” Lindsey said. “Other doctors just suggest vitamin D, exercise, or even just walking - anything that will help build and maintain the strength of the bones.
“Unless you have the screening done, though, you won’t know where to start or even if there is anything to be concerned about,” says Lindsey.
Experts recommend getting a baseline screening when women reach menopause. Patients should check insurance to determine if a physician referral is required. Medicare covers bone density screenings every two years.