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Bone Health

A bone density test can diagnose osteopenia (low bone density), and osteoporosis (a disease that causes bone tissue loss). The lower your bone density, the greater your risk of breaking a bone.  The Wishek Hospital and Clinics recently purchased a new bone density machine.  Lisa Swarts, Xray technician, and Aubrey Atkins, NP, offer their knowledge of how this machine can help patients understand their own bone health. 

A bone density test can help you and your healthcare provider:

  • learn if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • predict your chance of breaking a bone
  • check the status of your bone density
  • find out how well an osteoporosis medicine is working

      Earlier this year, The Hologic DXA Scan Bone Density Machine was delivered to the Wishek Hospital.  Funds for this much-needed, high-quality machine had been budgeted to replace a unit that was at least fifteen years old.
      “The DXA Scan has become the gold standard of measuring bone health, and we have it right here in our community,” says Aubrey, who came from a nursing department that put a heavy emphasis on bone health.  “Our new bone density machine allows easy access to a non-invasive screening method to help improve the health of people in Wishek and the surrounding area.”  The DXA has many enhancements that will better benefit patients. 

  1. More efficient storage.  An image can be retrieved via computer rather than paper records.
  2. Less time.   A bone takes less than a minute to scan, as opposed to five minutes with the old machine.
  3. Better results.  The new machine produces a clearer image and results come back within 24 hours. 
  4. Additional scans.  As well as scanning hips and backs, the DXA also scans forearms
  5. Less radiation.  Minimizing radiation exposure from six minutes to 60 seconds is better on the body.

     According to Aubrey, providers usually order a scan for patients who have high risk factors including family history, low vitamin D or calcium deficiencies.  Those who are over the age of 40 should also get a scan every 24 months.  Gender and ethnicity can also play in to deficiency levels.  “The older you get, the higher your risk becomes, especially in females,” says Aubrey.  Generally, women stop producing calcium around the age of 30 and their bone density is affected by estrogen levels, pregnancies, and menopause later in life.  
      “In all these years, I have only scanned one or two males,” commented Lisa.  “I would like people to know that this is not just a women’s test.  It is good for men to bring this up during their annual exams as well, especially depending on your past medication intake and health history.”

Thing to help you gain bone density:

  • Dairy products
  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Weight-bearing and aerobic exercises
  • The WHC physical therapy department

      Factors that decrease bone density in males and females include steroid use, remedies for irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease and cancer, as well as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.   Getting a bone scan would also be necessary if you have lost one to two inches in height throughout your life.  Back pain, along with height loss, could be an indication of small compression fractures in the spine that have occurred over time, and is worth mentioning to your provider.    
      Both Aubrey and Lisa encourage all patients to ask their providers if they qualify for a bone density test during their next visit.  “Deficiencies differ in everybody.  The bone density machine will help determine whether or not to treat it,” says Aubrey.  Many insurances will also help cover the cost.
      Lisa explained her vision for this new machine, “What we need here is to get younger people in before they start losing bone density.  We have so many patients who come who already have osteoporosis/osteopenia when we could have done more preventative work.  We have a new machine, and my hope is that people take advantage of this.” Along with Lisa, Jo Vilhauer, Stephanie Holt and Sheila Brosy are additional technicians who have been trained on the DXA machine.

Information was also adapted from the National Osteoporosis Foundation website.


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