Bone Density

Bone health is something that few of us wake up thinking about each day. However, at Allegheny Health Network, bone health is always a focus.

We can't feel our bones getting stronger, nor can we feel them getting weaker. In fact, osteoporosis is a silent disease until it is complicated by fractures that can occur following minimal trauma. The impact that bone loss and subsequent fractures can ultimately have on our quality of life once we’ve developed osteoporosis is significant.

Risk factors

There are many risk factors that contribute to developing osteoporosis. There are some factors that you cannot change. But there are others that you can control.

Factors you cannot change that increase your risk:

  • Gender: Women are at a much higher risk than men
  • Age: Risk increases as you get older
  • Ethnic Background: Women of Caucasian and Asian descent
  • Family History: Parents or siblings with osteoporosis or hip fractures
  • Menopause: Postmenopausal or experiencing early menopause
  • Sex Hormones: Reduced estrogen levels at menopause or during certain cancer treatments

Factors you can change to reduce your risk:

  • Eat a diet high in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Replace a sedentary lifestyle with an active one.
  • Limit drinking to two alcoholic drinks per day. Alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Quit tobacco. It contributes to weak bones.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

There are tests that use either x-rays or sound waves to measure bone density. These tests are painless. Ask your doctor if you should be tested.

  • X-ray tests, called DXA scans, examine your spine, hip, or wrist. DXA scans use very few x-ray waves.
  • Newer sound wave tests, called ultrasounds, test your heel.

How is it treated?

There is no way to cure osteoporosis. There are things you can do to slow it down. Talk to your doctor to make a plan to keep your bones healthy.

Prescription medicines

There are prescription medicines that you can take. These medicines come as a pill, a patch or a shot (injection). Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before you stop taking your medicine.

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are products that people add to their diets. They include vitamins, powders, energy bars and herbs. Talk to your doctor before you take any dietary supplements. These may affect your other medicines and make you sick.

Building bones and strengthening muscles

Strong bones and muscles help you to maintain strength as you age. They also help to prevent falls. There are many exercises to build bones and strengthen muscles, including:

  • Weight-bearing exercises- Walking, dancing, hiking, stair climbing
  • Strength exercises - Free weights, elastic bands, rubber tubing, weight machines
  • Flexibility exercises - Stretching, gentle yoga
  • Balance exercises - Tai chi, standing on one leg

Preventing falls

If your bones are porous, a simple fall could cause a fracture.

A few precautions can help to prevent falls:

  • Keep a clutter-free environment
  • Install sturdy handrails on all stairs
  • Repair loose or broken flooring and torn rugs
  • Clean up spills immediately
  • Use nonskid floor wax
  • Use rubber mats in your tub or shower
  • Make sure you have enough light
  • Use night lights
  • Wear nonslip shoes

Lifestyle changes

There are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk for osteoporosis.

Stay physically active. Do weight bearing exercise like walking.

  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Your doctor may suggest taking calcium and vitamin pills.

To learn more about osteoporosis – important links

Oral health and bone health

Brush your teeth after eating. Floss every day. See your dentist for routine checkups. We all know the drill. But did you know that women in mid-life may be especially prone to gum disease, which can have an effect on their bone health?

While three out of four adults are affected by gum disease at some point in their lives, women are especially at risk because of life-long hormone changes. Menopausal and postmenopausal women produce less saliva, which can lead to dry mouth. Untreated, dry mouth can lead to cavities. Also, many medications can cause dry mouth and other dental side effects. Some diseases, like diabetes, increase the risk of gum disease.

Smoking also increases the risk of gum disease. Gum disease and tooth decay take a serious toll. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of adults over age 65 have lost all their teeth.

Research also suggests a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw. The bone in the jaw supports and anchors the teeth. When the jawbone becomes less dense, tooth loss can occur, a common occurrence in older adults. Tooth loss affects approximately one-third of adults age 65 and older. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those who do not have the disease.

Low bone density in the jaw can result in other dental problems as well. For example, older women with osteoporosis may be more likely to have difficulty with loose or ill-fitting dentures and may have less optimal outcomes from oral surgical procedures.

Most oral and tooth disease is preventable. Keep your mouth healthy with regular brushing, flossing, and eating healthy foods. If you wear dentures, remove them at night and clean before wearing. See your dentist if you notice loose teeth, bleeding during brushing, red and swollen gums, or any other unusual changes.

Bone density testing

During a physical exam, you should be checked to see if you lost height, weight or have back pain. After the age of 50, it is extremely important to be tested for your height to help determine bone loss.

Bone density tests measure your bone mass to determine if your bones are thinning.

There are several types of bone density tests. Some tests measure bone density in the hips, spine and total body. Other tests measure bone density in the lower arm, finger, wrist, kneecap, shinbone and heel.

With information from a bone density test, you and your health care provider can decide what prevention or treatment steps are best for you. Depending on your age and risk factors, ask your provider if you should consider a bone density test.

At Allegheny Health Network, we offer Bone Density Mineral (BMD) tests to:

  • Detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs
  • Predict the chances of a fracture
  • Assess the rate of bone loss with repeated measurements
  • Monitor the effectiveness of medications
  • A Dual Energy X-Ray Absorption (DEXA) test is the most common and accurate technology which measures bone density at the hip, spine, or wrist.

When is it necessary to get a bone density screening?

  • If you're a woman 65 and older
  • If you're a younger, post-menopausal woman age 50 to 70 with clinical risk factors
  • If you've had a fracture after age 50
  • If you're taking a medication associated with low bone mass, or bone loss
  • If you're being treated for osteoporosis
  • If you're a postmenopausal woman discontinuing estrogen therapy

Your healthcare provider will determine if you are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis and recommend a screening test.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN Orthopaedic services.