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Osteoporosis Screening and Dexa Scan

Is osteoporosis screening important?  Is it for you?  The answer is probably a resounding YES!

Osteoporosis means porous or weak bones. It affects a great many people as they age, especially women, however men are susceptible as well. Osteoporosis can cause fractures, especially if left untreated. Fractures, especially hip fractures, have been shown to be a contributing cause of morbidity and mortality by approximately 20 percent within the one-year period following a hip fracture.

Who is at increased risk for osteoporosis?

  • Females more than males
  • Cigarette smokers
  • Postmenopausal women
  • Anyone with a chronic lung disease
  • Diabetics
  • Those with thyroid disorders
  • Those with chronic kidney or liver disease
  • Any one that uses medications such as:
             Steroids, oral, inhaled, IV, etc.
             Chemotherapy drugs
             Thyroid medications 
  • Excess alcohol use
  • Insufficient calcium and vitamin D intake
  • Those with fair complexions
  • Those who are extremely slender, less than 125 pounds
  • Family history of a parent or sibling with osteoporosis

How is it diagnosed?

Osteoporosis rarely shows up on routine x-rays until approximately 40 percent bone loss has occurred.  The most valuable tool today for diagnosing osteoporosis is a Dexa scan. Dexa scan is the term used for “Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry”.  It is a simple, fast and safe way to determine the presence and or risk of developing osteoporosis.  Many people are not aware of the need for routine screening until it is too late. Men, as well as women, should ask their physicians to do a baseline study, especially if you fall into any of the categories listed above.  Age is not the only factor to take into consideration; osteoporosis can affect the youngest among us, especially those of us using steroid medications.

Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed as having osteoporosis, osteopenia (early bone loss) or at risk, all is not lost. There are options available now that were not present years ago.

General suggestions include:

  • Lifestyle changes, including smoking cessation and exercise.
  • Adequate calcium intake, including dietary intake. Consult your personal medical physician for his or her recommendations for your particular needs.
  • Take appropriate precautions in and around your home to help prevent falls.


There are a great many prescription medications on the market today to help to slow down, stop and in some cases even reverse the bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Your physician may choose to start you on one of the many medications available.

Examples of some of the more common medications, include, but is not limited to, Fosamax, Evista, Didronel, Actonel, all in pill form. Another medication available for those that have difficulty with the oral versions is a hormone called “calcitonin”. It is available as an injection and also as a nasal spray called Miacalcin. Occasionally those using the oral forms of medication have problems with severe heartburn or reflux disease. Therefore, it is important to follow the instructions and information given by your physician and pharmacist regarding the correct use of these medications.

Some common guidelines are to take these medications an empty stomach, remain upright for 30 to 60 minutes after taking and before eating. Take with water only, as other fluids may inhibit the medications ability to properly get into the blood stream. Use of these medications does not replace the need for good dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D. 

More medications are being developed all the time to aid in osteoporosis treatment. Those mentioned here are but a few, and we neither suggest nor endorse any of them individually.  Please discuss the need for screening Dexa scans, supplements and medications with your own personal physician.

Compiled by COPD-International Community Members from a variety of sources deemed fairly accurate.

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Last modified: Aug 30, 2002