The University of South Alabama recently announced the addition of a new bone density machine to its Center for Women’s Health, allowing physicians to provide the best technology available for bone density assessment.

According to Dr. Peter Rizk, a reproductive endocrinologist with the USA Physicians Group, about 20 million women in the U.S. suffer from low bone density, known as osteopenia or osteoporosis, and the numbers are growing.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, increasing the chance of fractures. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine.

According to Dr. Rizk, there are no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. “Osteoporosis is a silent disease,” said Dr. Rizk, who is also a professor in the OB-GYN department at the USA College of Medicine. “It may not cause any symptoms until an acute fracture in the femur or vertebra occurs.”

Dr. Rizk stresses the importance of a bone density evaluation before symptoms, like fractures, occur. He said women should get their first scan at the age of 65, or earlier if they went through early menopause, took corticosteroids for several months at a time or have a family history of hip fractures. He also notes that women with specific hormonal concerns may even need a bone density scan before the onset of menopause.

A bone density machine can predict your risk of having a bone fracture in the future, and treatment recommendation depends on your total fracture risk. Treatment options for osteoporosis include lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise; taking calcium and vitamin D; and possibly medications.

“Calcium is an important mineral needed for bone formation, and Vitamin D is also needed because it helps your body absorb calcium,” Dr. Rizk said. “A healthy, well-balanced diet maintains the nutrients necessary for bone formation.”

According to Dr. Rizk, one of the best ways to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis is by getting regular exercise. “Exercise stimulates bone regeneration,” he said. “Even if you already have osteoporosis, exercising can help maintain the bone mass you have.”

In addition, Dr. Rizk recommends that patients stop smoking and decrease their alcohol consumption to prevent osteoporosis.

The benefits of the new bone density machine are available to a wide array of referring USA physicians and span beyond the diagnosis and monitoring of osteoporosis. Endocrinologists and internists are just a couple of the disciplines that have benefitted from utilizing the machine at the Center for Women’s Health.

“With the new technology, we can now send an image of the particular lumbar fractured vertebrae to the treating physicians,” said Dr. Rizk. “This imaging is particularly helpful in situations where three of four vertebrae are normal and one is fractured.”

According to Danny Rickert, practice director for the USA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, patients benefit by having easy access to this new technology. “We’ve increased availability in order to meet the demands of any referring doctors and to provide next day service for patients.”

Dr. Rizk recommends that women get a bone density scan every two years after they receive their first scan. For more information on bone density testing, talk with your primary care physician.

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