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A bone densitometry test, or scan, is designed to check for osteoporosis, a disease that occurs when the bones become thin and weak. Osteoporosis happens when the bones lose calcium and other minerals that keep them strong. Osteoporosis begins after menopause in many women, and worsens after age 65, often resulting in serious fractures. These fractures may not only bring disability, but may affect longevity. As many as one-fourth of women who fracture their hip after age 50 die within one year.
Most people today will get a bone density scan from a machine using a technology called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA. This machine takes a picture of the bones in the spine, hip, total body and wrist, and calculates their density. If a DEXA machine is not available, bone density scans can also be done with dual photon absorbtiometry (measuring the spine, hip and total body) and quantitative computed tomography scans (measuring the spine). Bone density scanners that use DEXA technology to just measure bone density in the wrist (called pDEXA scans) provide scans at some drugstores. Yet these tests are not as accurate as those that measure density in the total body, spine or hip—where most fractures occur. The DEXA scanner is most commonly found in large medical groups and medical centers.
Two newer devices are also available to check bone density. The Sahara Clinical Bone Sonometer, introduced in 1998, uses the velocity of sound waves to determine bone density. The device is much smaller then the DEXA scanner and requires that the seated patient place the foot in the scanner for about one minute. The device sends ultrasound waves through the heel. Since the device is much smaller and cheaper than the DEXA machine, it is found most commonly in doctor's offices. The second device, introduced in 2000, is the Alara MetriScan, a tabletop scanner that allows clinicians to perform the test in a doctor's office. The patient puts the nondominant hand on the device's platform and the scan is done by xraying the fingers.
A bone density scan measures the strength of an individual's bones and determines the risk of fracture.
Author Info: Ken R. Wells, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, 2002
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