Early Detection Vital For Osteoporosis

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No wonder Dr. Charles Calkins refers to osteoporosis as "the silent disease." Many of its victims don't know they have it until it's too late, when they have suffered a tell-tale and often disabling, and sometimes fatal bone fracture.

That's why early detection of osteoporosis is so important, Calkins said. And that's why he is now the only physician in the Rim country to use the advanced bone densitometry technology known as Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, or DEXAscan considered to be the most accurate and reliable method now available to assess a patient's bone strength, risk of experiencing a disabling fracture, and risk of developing osteoporosis.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue leading to bone fragility affects an estimated 40 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. Another 34 million are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for the disease.

But those aren't the truly frightening numbers. Osteoporosis, the foundation reports, is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and 300,000 others.

All told, in 2001, the estimated national direct expenditures for these fractures was $17 billion, or $47 million each day and the cost is rising.

The lifetime risk of osteoporotic fractures in women, Calkins said, is almost 40 percent, and the disease occurs five times more often in women than in men. Studies show that about 10 percent of women will develop a hip fracture in their lifetime a figure equal to the combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Once taken for granted as a natural consequence of aging, osteoporosis is now considered a treatable disorder. And the key to successful treatment, Calkins said, is simple: "Early detection."

To that end, Calkins who is also Payson Regional Medical Center's chief of staff procured a DEXAscan system, which measures bone mineral density using safe, low levels of radiation.

Conducted by certified medical personnel, the totally painless exam begins with the patient laying down without moving on the scan table, which resembles a scaled-down CAT scan device. A scanner then passes over the patient's lower spine, wrist or hip. A dual energy beam of very low dose X-rays (comparable to the naturally occurring radiation humans are exposed to in one week) passes through that bodily area and is measured by a detector.

DEXAscan technology works, Calkins said, by measuring the amount of X-rays that are absorbed by the bones in your body. The two X-ray energies allow the machine to differentiate between bone and soft tissue, giving a very accurate estimation of bone density.

"Prime candidates to be tested for osteoporosis are post-menopausal women and older men," Calkins said. "Also, those who have a condition or disease that may reduce peak bone mass or accelerated bone loss such as anorexia, bulimia, premature menopause, testosterone deficiency, Vitamin D deficiency, gastrectomy, cigarette smoking and excessive ingestion of caffeine, to name a few."

Individuals in these categories, he added, should be tested for bone loss every two to three years, unless the patient has a condition that accelerates the bone loss.

Once accurate bone density measurements detect bone loss and help determine a course of therapy, said Calkins, the future automatically becomes brighter for anyone who once thought there was no escape from "the silent disease."

"People used to think that osteoporosis was just a natural result of aging, and that the results were inevitable," Calkins said. "But now, with the early detection that can be made available through a DEXAscan, we can alter the outcome for the better."

If you are interested in DEXAscan testing, consult your personal physician, who can prescribe an examination for you.

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