Like other organs in the body, bones are constantly changing. Throughout childhood and as young adults, bones grow in strength and in size. Around the age of 30, bones reach their peak strength and then naturally become weaker with age. Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weak to the point of breaking. This weakening may be due to aging or caused by other factors that combine with age. Symptoms of osteoporosis do not occur until a lot of bone strength is lost. The most visible symptoms may include loss of height along with curvature of the upper back.
Osteoporosis also can result in a crippling and painful fracture, occurring most often in the hip, back or wrist. Everyone loses bone strength as they grow older. Because women are affected by the change-of-life known as menopause, women have higher risk for osteoporosis than men. After menopause, women produce less of a hormone called estrogen. Estrogen helps protect women against bone loss.
A medical test that measures the amount of bone is the best way to detect osteoporosis. A bone densitometer is one such test. The bone densitometer uses a small amount of x-ray to produce images of the spine, hip or whole body. The x-ray is composed of two energy levels which are absorbed differently by the bone in the body. A computer is able to determine from these differences how much bone mineral is present. The amount of bone mineral relates directly to bone strength.
The bone densitometer or DEXA Scanner is a large table. While you remain in your everyday clothing with the exceptions of belt buckles, metal or thick plastic buttons, and any jewelry, the operator will position your arms and legs for the test. The exam is painless and typically takes about 10-15 minutes. You just need to lie still and breath normally while the scan glides over you.