Focus On Your Bone Density

Osteoporosis is no longer just a disease of the aged. Because its effects are so drastic, it pays to focus on bone density now and for a lifetime

| September/October 2000

  • Cindy Murphy’s DEXA scan, showing ostopenia, or poor bone density.
  • Murphy now walks or jogs two miles a day and works out on weight machines four times per week.

Last year, as a favor to a friend, forty-two-year-old Cindy Murphy participated in a benefit walk for osteoporosis. At the walk, she got a free ultrasound scan of the bone in her heel. When the results revealed that Murphy had the bone density of a much older woman and needed to see a doctor, though, she laughed.

“I thought, ‘How accurate can those machines be?’ ” she recalls.

But shortly afterward, Murphy wasn’t laughing. Her doctor encouraged her to have a complete physical along with her Pap test—a good idea for any woman over forty. During that physical, nurses discovered Murphy had lost nearly an inch of height. Height loss is a key marker symptom for osteoporosis, a disorder that results in increasingly brittle and breakable bones.

Doctors performed a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan on Murphy’s spine. That test showed even less bone density than the heel scan. Suddenly, doctors were telling her she had a disease that she equated with old age and fragility, with inevitable decline.

Osteoporosis—literally, “porous bone,” —is a crippling disease because porous bones break more easily and repair themselves more slowly. Bones lose density slowly, day after day and year after year. But without the medical tests that “see” into bones, there’s no way to tell that it’s happening.

Weak bones in the spine can fracture without a fall, resulting in chronic back pain, poor posture, or a loss of height. Falls that wouldn’t harm someone with good bone density can result in fractures of the wrist or hip, both of which can be extremely painful. Hip fractures can be debilitating.

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