Health Team

Early Screening Key to Treating Osteoporosis

Millions of Americans have osteoporosis, but there are no external symptoms until the damage is done. An early diagnosis can mean an early start to treatment.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Half of all women 50 years of age and older will have an osteoporosis-related bone fracture in their lifetime, according to health officials. They claim effective prevention and treatment hinges on screening.

Seven years ago, at age 50, Lee Davis had her first bone density exam and everything was fine. Four years later, she had breast cancer.

"I had chemotherapy and radiation and I had one after that, and that's when the changes had started," she said.

Davis started noticing changes in her bones. Health experts said some medications and medical treatments can contribute to bone loss. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include a family history of the disease and a sedentary lifestyle.

Health officials claim women are more at risk than men, especially those of post-menopausal age and in hormone replacement therapy. They said smoking and excessive alcohol can contribute as well as a diet lacking calcium and vitamin D.

Dr. Joseph Melamed, of Wake Radiology, said he remembers when there was no effective treatment for bone loss.

"There are a number of drugs that are available now that can slow or even reverse the process," he said.

Melamed said women first need to be screened. Health experts said a bone densitometry exam is quick and painless. The scan results show bone density in a vareity of colors. A green color shows a normal range, yellow means low bone mass or osteopenia while red is osteoporosis.

A diagnosis starts a course of treatment, including medication, calcium supplements and exercise.

"Bones are actually living tissue and exercise puts stress on the bones that allows them to remodel and remain strong," Melamed said.

Davis was never a big fan of exercise, but she said she tries to go to the gym and do weight-bearing exercises. She is on medication and increased calcium in her diet.

"I need to pay attention to it. It's nothing to kid around with," she said.

All women age 65 and older and men aged 70 and older should be screened regularly.

You should consider earlier screening if you have other risk factors for osteoporosis.