It's an insidious disease that robs its victims of the ability to live a full healthy life. It's called Osteoporosis and it affects more than 28 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. The ramifications of this silent, painless bone stalker can be life altering, making impossible for a person to maintain independance or lead an active lifestyle _ particularly in the later years.
>In Prineville, there is a new x-ray machine that tests the density of bone to determine a person's potential for developing the disease
The word `Osteoporosis' actually means porous bone, which is a fairly apt description of what the disease looks like from the inside out.
If left untreated or undetected this disease causes bones to become fragile and increases the likelihood of a potentially devastating break. Although any bone can be affected, fractures typically occur in weight-bearing areas like the hip and spine. A fall on an outstreached hand can even cause fracture of the wrist.
One will usually recover from a spine fracture or wrist fracture, but when the unsuspecting victim fractures a hip, it almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery.
Recovery is slow and can eventually impair a person's ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability, or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
The good news is that the process of bone loss can be minimized. When caught early enough, fractures will be prevented. In Prineville, there is a new x-ray machine that tests the density of bone to determine a person's potential for developing the disease.
Determining bone density gives doctors an osteoporosis indicator _ just as cholesterol is followed to determine heart disease, and blood pressure is followed to determine stroke.
"Any postmenopausal woman should have her bone mass tested. It's incredibly important," said Dr. Roger Piepenbrink. "Doctors are now able to use the information gained from the osteoporosis scanner both for the diagnosis and tracking of this disease. Bone mass predicts risk of fracture three to four times better than cholesterol predicts heart attacks."
The slick new state-of-the-art osteoporosis scanner is part of Piepenbrink's Internal Medicine practice in Prineville. The machine looks rather like a combination of a tanning bed and a massage table. A patient lies down on the table while an arm which extends over the top slowly scans the full length of the torso and hips.
The scanner is capable of measuring the bone density of the wrist, both hips and spine. With this new fangled machine, the spine can be imaged both from the front and the side. This side view of the spine is particularly useful for detecting the presence of previous spine fracture, 50 percent of which are not known by the individual.
The information is conveyed to a computer which enables doctors to determine bone density in a matter of minutes. The information can then be faxed or emailed to the primary care physician for further evaluation.
According to Piepenbrink, until a few years ago, evaluating bone density using conventional x-ray systems did not reveal a potential problem until a patient had lost 25-30 percent of her bone - and at this point the patient has had osteoporosis for some time.
Now, in a matter of minutes, this highly sensitive densitometer identifies those at risk at a much earlier stage, making it possible for the physician to treat the disease, possibly preventing the devastating consequences of a break or fracture.
"If you were someone with osteoporosis and were to fracture today, you would join a very racy crowd - with a 25 percent of dying within the first year and another 25 to 30 percent chance of never returning to your previous level of activity," Piepenbrink said. "These are some very compelling statistics."
"Unfortunately in my job as an Internist I see routinely patients in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s who are affected by this disease. Having an osteoporotic fracture is a big deal if you were planning on vacationing in Hawaii, planning to be with your family and great-grandkids and now you're in a nursing home," Piepenbrink said. "With a hip fracture, the prospects are that this is where you're going to have to live for a while, maybe permanently. When you do go back home you may have difficulty getting around and have to use a walker."
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, by about age 20, the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis later.
There are four steps to prevent osteoporosis. No one step alone is enough to prevent osteoporosis, but all four may. They are:
1) A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
2) Weight-bearing exercise
3) A healthy lifestyle with no smoking or excessive alcohol intake, and
4) Bone density testing and medication and when appropriate
For those who know that they have already begun to loose bone mass faster than normal, there are also effective lifestyle changes and medications that slow the process, and actually increase bone strength. Piepenbrink suggests that patients talk to their doctor to learn more about osteoporosis and the need for obtaining a scan.
For more information call 416-2470, email: bdensity@ crestviewcable.com. or visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website at www.nof.org.