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Medical News Today: Ultrasound scans could boost screenings for osteoporosis

A new study that aimed to advance methods of assessing bone health found that data from ultrasound scans were equal to those gathered using X-ray.

Ultrasound imaging could help boost osteoporosis screening.

The way we live shapes our bones. There are a lot of things we can do to help keep our bones healthy.

Bone mineral density (BMD) gauges the amount of bone mineral in bone tissue, and doctors use it to determine bone quality.

Genetics, nutrition, and lifestyle all contribute to BMD.

Following a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and doing physical activity both contribute to improving bone quality. They also reduce the risk of developing bone diseases.

The body establishes peak BMD by the time a person is in their mid- to late 20s, and it decreases naturally as people get older. If bones are not sufficiently strong during adult life, the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis increases.

The global burden of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis reduces bone quality; they become more fragile and their fracture risk increases. The most common fractures occur in the hips, spine, and wrist.

Vertebral fractures can have serious consequences, including loss of height and intense back pain.

Bone loss has a serious impact on a person’s health and quality of life. In some cases, it can lead to long-term disability and death. Also, osteoporosis represents a socioeconomic burden, resulting in high medical costs and loss of work days.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), the condition causes almost 9 million fractures annually, worldwide.

Osteoporosis affects about 200 million women. Women tend to have thinner bones than men, and chances of developing the condition increase during menopause, when the hormone estrogen decreases.

Despite its global impact, this condition remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. The IOF claim that doctors neither identify nor treat about 80 percent of people who are at high risk and have already had one fracture.

Advancing methods of assessing bone health

One recent study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that data obtained from ultrasound scans were equal to those gathered using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Experts consider this to be one of the best methods to assess bone quality.

While DEXA remains an excellent option to gather comprehensive information on bone health, the equipment is expensive and many people cannot afford this procedure.

DEXA uses a very small dose of ionizing radiation to create pictures of spine and hips to measure bone loss.

Ultrasound could lead to increased screenings for osteoporosis. The machine works by measuring how sound waves move through the bone. It is portable, inexpensive, and involves no radiation.

“Prior research,” explains Prof. Andrea Nazar, of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, “has demonstrated strong correlations between education level and socioeconomic status and bone quality.”

Prof. Nazar goes on to say that young adults should try to pay special attention to lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise to avoid bone diseases later in life. She recommends that people follow a balanced diet combined with weight-bearing exercises that protect and strengthen bones.

Because of its low cost, mobility, and safety, ultrasound is a promising tool for assessing more people, across multiple demographics.”

Prof. Andrea Nazar

Study co-author Carolyn Komar, Ph.D. — also of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine — believes that using ultrasound will not give all the information that a DEXA scan could gather.

However, it can help doctors decide whether they should initiate treatment for the person.