Sentara offers options for maintaining bone health

Published 8:29 pm Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nurses demonstrate the bone density screening offered for free once a month at Sentara Obici Hospital. The screening aids doctors in the diagnosis of osteoporosis.

Sentara Obici Hospital is taking steps to help community members combat osteoporosis.

The hospital hosts free bone density screenings on the second Tuesday of each month.

“I knew I was being bad and needed my bone density checked,” said Beth Watkins, a patient and nurse practitioner with Lakeview Cardiology. “I haven’t been taking my calcium.”

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Watkins has a family history of bone issues and comes to the free screenings to make sure she is doing all she needs to do to keep her bones strong.

“People usually have no symptoms until a bone breaks,” said Phyllis Lilly, a registered nurse and staff development educator.

The screenings can be invaluable, as they provide patients with the knowledge they and their doctors need to make good decisions about their bone health

“It gives you an indication of what risk you have with bone issues,” Watkins said.

Watkins was joined by 24 other patients that took advantage of February’s free bone density screening.

Among them was Linda White, who has a family history of osteoporosis. Because of what she learned through her bone density screenings, she was able to set up a plan with her doctor that included taking a calcium regimen. Since then, her bones have improved.

The screenings are a good way to begin the conversation about bone health with your doctor as you can take the results of the screening with you, Lilly said.

“A screening is a good indication of what’s going on and if they need a full body scan,” Lilly said. “The results assist physicians in the diagnosis of osteoporosis.”

To begin the screening, the patient puts her foot in the Achilles Express bone density scanner. The scanner measures the density of the heel bone.

“Basically, it’s an ultra-sound,” Lilly said. “It’s a machine that uses high frequency or ultraviolet sound waves to evaluate the bone status in the heel.”

With the results of the screening, doctors can order a full-body scan more comfortably, Lilly said. Without the abbreviated scan, many doctors hesitate to order a full body scan. Many times, health insurance won’t pay for the procedure unless there is reason to believe that the patient is at risk for osteoporosis.

According to Lilly, both men and women can benefit from a bone density screening, even though women are about four to five times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

Women in their 20s should have a scan to have a baseline, Lilly said. Research shows that women stop laying bone between the ages of 28 and 35, at which point women need to maintain their bone strength.

Lilly also explained that women lose 20 to 25 percent of their bone mass during menopause because they begin to produce less estrogen, which helps keep their bones strong.

Certain factors, like genetics and aging, create a greater risk for osteoporosis. But there are several ways people can decrease their risk for the disease.

Lilly recommends exercising regularly and taking in food and drink rich in calcium like low fat dairy products, yogurts, milk, cheese, tofu, foods and drinks fortified in calcium, dark leafy vegetables, turnip greens and fish with edible bones, including sardines and mackerel. She advises women in their early 20s to exercise more often and eat foods high in calcium to aid them in continuing to develop strong bones. Lilly gives the same advice for maintaining strong bones after age 35.

Sentara Obici Hospital holds the free screenings on the second Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon in the second floor atrium. No appointment is necessary.