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Bone density test

Special x-rays are used to determine how many grams of bone mineral content (calcium and other bone minerals) is filled into a section of the bone. Bones with high mineral content indicate very dense bones thus indicating the bones are strong and have fewer chances of breakage. Bone density tests are recommended by doctors to check for osteoporosis. Bone density tests are done either by central or peripheral devices. Central devices are huge machines on which the patient can lie down. Such devices are mainly used to check the lumbar vertebrae (lower region of the spine), the narrow neck of the femur bone adjoining the hip and the bones of the wrist and the forearm.

Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA): This test produces exact results and is the most preferred choice to diagnose osteoporosis. The patient will be asked to lie down on a padded platform as an imager (an apparatus like a mechanical arm) passes above the body. The required information is captured by the device and the test is completed within 20 minutes. The amount of radiation exposure in this test is equal to one-tenth of a chest x-ray radiation. DXA scan can detect even a 1% change in the bone, that which can not be achieved through an ordinary x-ray.

Quantitative CT scan: The bone density (especially spine) is measured with the help of a computerized tomography (CT) scanner along with computer software. The scan produces a three-dimensional picture which also relates to the aging consequences of the bone and diseases other than osteoporosis. The patient is made to lie down on a movable table that is directed into a big tube-like area where images are pictured. The test is completed within 20 minutes and the radiation exposure is slightly more when compared to the DXA scan.

Peripheral devices are moveable machines that measure the bone density on the periphery of the skeleton. e.g. finger, wrist or heel. They are smaller machines when compared to the central devices and can be found in pharmacies and have their own restrictions. These machines are used to check for the bone density in the heel, or wrist or fingers.

Osteoporosis

Literally meaning 'porous bones', osteoporosis is a medical condition that is characterized by fragile skeletal structure. Osteoporosis threatens nearly 34 million women in the US alone and many more worldwide. Osteoporosis is commonly noticed in post-menopausal women. But actual loss of bone mass happens in the 30s. This occurs due to loss of lose an excessive amount of their protein and mineral content, particularly calcium from the bones. Over time it leads to reduced bone mass and decreased bone strength. Normal bone marrow has small holes within it, but a bone with osteoporosis will have much larger holes. Osteoporosis can be classified into two categories - primary and secondary. Primary osteoporosis is associated with bone loss, which is prevalent in older persons and post menopause women. Secondary osteoporosis results from chronic conditions that contribute significantly to accelerated bone loss.


Most often osteoporosis is caused by a combination of lifestyle, genetic and hormonal factors. Slender, small-framed women are particularly at risk. Typical symptoms of osteoporosis are severe back pain, curvature of the spine and loss of height. A woman suffering from osteoporosis suffers from joint aches and muscle aches. There is an increased tendency to fractures on account of brittle and thin bones. Osteoporosis can be hereditary. Women with very thin body frames can be at increased risk of osteoporosis on account of lesser bone mass. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can put a woman at increased risk of osteoporosis since drugs such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone damage bone mass. Other medications that can lead to bone loss are diuretics, anti-seizure drugs and anticoagulants. Hyperthyroidism is another contributory factor to developing osteoporosis. Chronic conditions such as renal failure, malnutrition and connective tissue diseases contribute towards development of osteoporosis.


Diagnosis of osteoporosis may include a series of tests such as bone densitometry (a bone density scan) performed by your physician. There are three types of bone density scans: dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), single photon absorptiometry (SPA), and quantitative computed tomography (QCT). The most common bone density scan is the DEXA - a test that measures bone density based on how bone absorbs two sets of photons (atomic particles with no electrical charge) generated by an x-ray tube. A bone density test is recommended by physicians to post menopausal women, especially those with a higher risk factor.


It is essential to build on your bone mass during the ages of 25 - 35 so as to keep osteoporosis at bay. This can be done by maintaining a balanced diet, with plenty of calcium and following a regular exercise regimen. Weight-bearing exercises are of special importance in strengthening the bones. Running, skipping, aerobics, tennis and weight training are ideal osteoporosis exercises that can be undertaken thrice a week for at least 30 minutes. Apart from bone density, these exercises also increase the strength, co-ordination and balance, thereby reducing the risk of falls. A sedentary lifestyle can put you at increased risk of developing osteoporosis in latter years.

  • Consuming a balanced diet, rich in calcium
  • Eating green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, dairy products, nuts and shellfish
  • Calcium supplements
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol intake

DHEA

DHEA Dehydroepiandrosterone is a steroid hormone that is naturally produced by adrenal or the stress glands in the body. The dominant hormone in the body gets converted into other hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and corticosterone.


DHEA levels are high in the 20s and early 30s, the average being about 25mg per day. The level declines with age. Besides the aging factor, decline in DHEA levels can be attributed to diseases such as end stage kidney disease, AIDS, anorexia, adrenal insufficiency and type 2 diabetes.

Intake of medications such as insulin, opiates, corticosteroids and danazol also contribute to DHEA depletion. DHEA - dehydroepiandrosterone (or Androstenolone as it is sometimes called) levels can be maintained through DHEA supplements under medical supervision. The dosage is to be determined by the healthcare provider. The benefits of DHEA supplementation includes improved immunological function, bone mineral density and sexual libido in women, reduced abdominal fat, diabetes prevention and cancer.


With specific reference to DHEA levels and heart health, data indicates that in men and women who die of heart disease, the DHEA levels are significantly less than others of the same age. The aim of DHEA level test is to measure the amount of hormone in the blood stream. When the levels are low, the endocrine function of the body is severely affected. Being the 'feel-good' hormone, a good level of DHEA contributes to a balanced mood.


Extensive research on DHEA levels suggests that healthy DHEA levels can prevent Alzheimer's disease, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, heart disease and obesity. Symptoms of low DHEA levels are extreme fatigue, decrease in muscle mass, decrease in bone density, depression, aching joints, loss of libido and lowered immunity. Doctors test DHEA levels as a diagnostic tool for varied reasons. The test results indicate specific disorders in men, women and children.


  • To check if the adrenal glands are working properly.

  • In women, the test is recommended if there is excessive hair growth or the appearance of male body characteristics.

  • In children who attain puberty at an abnormally early age, the DHEA level test is done to assess any gland disorder.

  • Prevalence of diseases and the process of aging can cause bone loss. By checking the DHEA levels, doctors can recommend measures to improve bone density.

  • Depression, anxiety and mood disorders are linked to hormonal imbalance. DHEA level test is a precursor to treating major depression.

  • Assessment of DHEA levels helps in taking measures to boost immune system.

  • Decreased libido is linked to lower DHEA levels.

  • Low levels of DHEA help predict HIV progression.

  • If afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome, testing DHEA levels helps in taking necessary steps to improve the condition.

  • To assess if bone density is higher especially in women who have undergone menopause, DHEA level test is recommended.

  • Extensive research on DHEA indicates it as a predictive factor in diagnosing aging-related diseases.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: October 20, 2019