Published on September 21, 2022

Give Your Bones a Break

Happy father and son playing

Imagine a routine part of daily life that takes about 3 seconds: pausing to cough, picking up the laundry basket, tripping while walking your dog. Across the world, in those same 3 seconds, a new person suffered a fracture because of osteoporosis.

According to the National Institutes of Health, osteoporosis is a bone disease that deteriorates bone strength and leaves those it affects more susceptible to fractures and breaks. Globally, osteoporosis affects almost 20% of women ages 50 and over and almost 5% of men ages 50 and over. However, it’s referred to as a “silent” disease because it often goes undetected until a person breaks a bone.

“The idea is to try to stop that progression before it gets to the point where the bone is brittle and fractures.”

Oct. 20, National Osteoporosis Day, aims to raise global awareness about prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the bone disease. Locally, Enloe Medical Center is hoping to do its part with the availability of osteoporosis screenings, called DEXA scans, at the new Enloe Breast Imaging, which opens in November.

Through a referral from their physician, patients will have access to DEXA scans to determine if they have, or are at risk of having, the disease.

New Screening Coming

Tanja Hayton, the lead Mammography Tech at Enloe Breast Imaging, described a DEXA scan as a quick, easy test that uses low levels of X-rays to measure bone density. Most importantly, she said, these scans are critical in being able to find evidence of osteoporosis before it’s too late.

“The idea is to try to stop that progression before it gets to the point where the bone is brittle and fractures because of something like a cough or because someone picked something up that was too heavy,” Hayton said.

These aren’t just minor fractures, either, Hayton said. Osteoporosis can lead to serious breaks, like a hip fracture or a compression fracture of the spine.

“These injuries are big injuries,” she said. “They change a person’s life. It changes everything about what they can do and how they function.”

The good news is finding signs of osteoporosis early can go a long way toward managing the condition. Hayton said referring physicians can prescribe medications that aim to slow down the weakening of bones or improve the body’s ability to regrow and strengthen its own bones. She encourages folks to talk to their providers about their bone health and when they should start being screened for osteoporosis.

“There are several additional factors that can contribute to a person’s risk, including genetics, tobacco usage, arthritis, liver disease, Type 1 diabetes, premature menopause, malnutrition and consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day.”

Reducing Risks

People can also take steps on their own to reduce their risk. These include eating a balanced diet with appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, and not smoking.

The biggest key is screening. And while osteoporosis is more common in women, Hayton said men can also be at an increased risk of the disease. There are several additional factors that can contribute to a person’s risk, including genetics, tobacco usage, arthritis, liver disease, Type 1 diabetes, premature menopause, malnutrition and consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day.

For Hayton and the rest of Enloe Breast Imaging, having DEXA scans available means providing more access to screening for the members of the community who may need it the most, which will help those who get diagnosed develop a plan to manage their condition.

“It’s about serving our community,” Hayton said. “It adds another layer of comprehensive care for our patients.”