Simple, Cheap Way To Detect the Bone-Thinning Disease Osteoporosis

Simple, Cheap Way To Detect the Bone-Thinning Disease Osteoporosis by Routine De

Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones," causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that even mild stresses like bending over, lifting a vacuum cleaner or coughing can cause a fracture. In most cases, bones weaken when you have low levels of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in your bones. Osteoporosis can also accompany endocrine disorders or result from excessive use of drugs such as corticosteroids.


Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. There are currently an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from osteoporosis, as well as another 18 million who have low bone mass, or osteopenia.It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 worldwide have osteoporosis. It is responsible for millions of fractures annually, mostly involving the lumbar vertebrae, hip, and wrist.

Osteoporosis occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone, or when too much old bone is reabsorbed by the body, or both.

Estrogen deficiency following menopause is correlated with a rapid reduction in BMD(Bone mass density). This, plus the increased risk of falling associated with aging, leads to fractures of the wrist, spine and hip. Other hormone deficiency states can lead to osteoporosis, such as testosterone deficiency. Glucocorticoid or thyroxine excess states also lead to osteoporosis. Lastly, calcium and/or vitamin D deficiency from malnutrition increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA, formerly DEXA) is considered the gold standard for diagnosis of osteoporosis. Diagnosis is made when the bone mineral density is less than or equal to 2.5 standard deviations below that of a young adult reference population.

A computer program that analyzes routine dental X-rays could offer a simple, cheap way to detect the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, new research suggests.

British researchers found that a software program they developed was able to spot signs of declining bone density in dental X-rays of the lower jaw -- a potential sign of osteoporosis.

The findings, they report, suggest that routine dental X-rays could provide an inexpensive way to provide wide screening of older adults for osteoporosis. Those with signs of bone thinning in the jaw could be referred for more expensive osteoporosis testing.

In the U.S., the Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women age 65 or older be screened for osteoporosis -- the "gold standard" for screening is a relatively expensive test called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Medicare will pay for this test every two years.

In the UK, the national health system currently has no program for osteoporosis screening.

That means many people with the disease -- most often older women -- won't know they have it until they suffer a fracture, said Dr. Hugh Devlin of the University of Manchester, the lead author on the new study.

The study findings, published online in the journal Bone, are based on bone X-rays of 652 European women between the ages of 45 and 70. All of the women underwent DXA, as well as panoramic dental X-rays, which show the whole jaw.

The DXA tests found osteoporosis in the hip or spine in 140 women. Analysis of dental X-rays picked up more than half of these cases, the researchers found.

More work is needed before dental X-rays become part of osteoporosis screening, Devlin said. "We want to find out the attitude of patients and doctors to this new role of dentists identifying patients they suspect of being at high risk of osteoporosis," he noted.

The next step, according to Devlin, will be for an X-ray equipment company to take to the idea and integrate the software into its products.

A common result of osteoporosis is fractures — most of them in the spine, hip or wrist. Although it's often thought of as a women's disease.This is because women have less bone mass than men, tend to live longer and take in less calcium, and need the female hormone estrogen to keep their bones strong. If men live long enough, they are also at risk of getting osteoporosis later in life.And compared with the number of women and men who have osteoporosis, many more have low bone density.This is because women have less bone mass than men, tend to live longer and take in less calcium, and need the female hormone estrogen to keep their bones strong.

If men live long enough, they are also at risk of getting osteoporosis later in life.Even children aren't immune. Yet it's never too late — or too early — to do something about osteoporosis. Everyone can take steps to keep bones strong and healthy throughout life.

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