Adult bone density peaks at age 30. The chances of losing bone mass increase, particularly in women, beginning around age 40. Since last fall, Central Peninsula General Hospital's Kenai clinic, has been using new technology to identify osteoporosis, the thinning and weakening of bones.
The clinic is located in the Kenai Health Center on Barnacle Way.
"It's a state-of-the-art machine," said CPGH spokesperson Bonnie Nichols of the bone densitometer, which uses X-rays to measure bone and body density.
CPGH acquired the $130,000 piece of equipment in October, shortly after the health center opened, and imaging technologist Margaret "Muggs" Prestwick said the center has screened more than 100 patients for osteoporosis since getting the densitometer. She said the need to detect the condition has been rising in the past several years.
"There has been more emphasis on bone density screening in the last three to four years," Prestwick said. "They (doctors) are repairing so many fractured hips, wrists and legs."
Osteoporosis affects about 28 million Americans, according to CPGH-provided information. Eighty percent of those cases reported are women, in whom the hormone estrogen stops replacing bone matter that is continually deteriorating, and bones become brittle and susceptible to breaking.
The condition is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures each year, including 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebrae (back) fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures and more than 300,000 fractures in other sites.
The densitometer offers an efficient way to identify a problem, and, after nearly 15 years of earlier models, is totally safe and takes little time, Prestwick said.
"The exam time has gone from minutes to literally seconds," she said. "It gives off very minimal doses of radiation. I'm right here (next to the machine) all through the day."
Nichols said the machine is very popular with Kenai Peninsula residents, who before had to take a road trip for this type of screening.
"It's been requested over and over again by patients going to Anchorage," she said.
"Women who needed that baseline bone density testing to make sure that they weren't losing bone as they age have somewhere nearby."
The machine is set up much like a physician's table, with the mattress for a patient to lie upon during the examination. A boom extends above the table and is attached to a motor beneath that slowly moves the arm back and forth over the patient's body, sending radiation through to a sensor underneath.
This sensor is connected to a computer, where the information is processed.
Prestwick said the entire process takes roughly 30 minutes, although much of that time involves gathering patient information -- measuring height and weight, and assessing potential risk factors -- and analyzing the data collected. X-rays are typically taken of a patient's spine, hip and a forearm.
"Those are the spots that are sensitive to breaking," Prestwick said.
She said the machine offers another benefit above and beyond scanning for bone tissue loss. The densitometer can tell one's body fat percentage.
"Because of the process, the equipment can measure body tissue, body mass and the whole body composition," she said. "Some of the health nuts are more interested in this than the average patient."
Prestwick, who has been doing medical imaging for 30 years, said the cost of a bone density test is $260 for the entire analysis. She said those who discover a problem often begin hormone replacement therapy to return bone mass to their bodies.
The risk of osteoporosis in women increases after menopause and with smoking or drinking. Women with low body weight, insufficient calcium in their diets, poor exercise habits, family histories of osteoporosis or medical histories of liver disease, anorexia or overactive thyroid glands can also be at risk.
But, Prestwick said, it is still imperative to detect osteoporosis as early as possible.
"It's difficult to gain back gone density you've already lost," she said. "We can arrest it, but we can't reverse it."
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