Watch as an ARA patient gets a bone densitometry exam and talks to radiologist Dr. Bruce Tharp about osteoporosis and osteopenia, plus bone density treatments and lifestyle changes. This was shown live on Austin television station KEYE.
Trevor Scott, “We Are Austin” Host: Good morning and welcome back to “We Are Austin from Home.” Helping you stay healthy down to the bones.
Today we’re discussing bone densitometry and osteoporosis with ARA Diagnostic Imaging. Joining us this morning, we actually have an ARA patient we’re gonna speak to a little bit later, Julia, who is gonna get a bone densitometry exam, and ARA imager Dr. Bruce Tharp. They’re both joining us today.
We’re gonna start with Dr. Tharp to talk about osteoporosis, and we’re actually gonna listen to some real-time exam results.
Good morning to you Doctor. Thanks for joining us.
D. Bruce Tharp, MD: Thank you for having me.
Trevor: So, I think that this is fascinating. Number one, I’m really excited to get into all of the cool stuff with the scan here in a minute, but let’s start kinda high level and talk about osteoporosis.
What exactly is it and how does that happen in patients?
Dr. Tharp: Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become brittle and fragile. It happens with age. It also happens with hormonal changes. So, therefore, it’s a disease that we commonly think affects women as they start menopause and their hormones change. And it just causes a thinning of the bones. Therefore because it decreases the density of the bones or the mineral content of the bones, if you will (and in layman’s terms that would include the calcium which we’re very familiar with) it causes an increased risk for fracture.
And osteoporosis is one of those silent diseases, unfortunately, that you don’t know you have until it’s too late. So, our patients will have a fracture as they get older, and it’s because they have osteoporosis and they weren’t aware they had it. And by that time it becomes too late. Or not too late, but then it becomes harder to treat. So, at that point, you’re working against time. You’re working against the loss of the bone mineral.
So it’s one of those diseases if we can catch early and we can screen for it, then we can catch it. We can treat it, we can do prevention steps so that you don’t lose the bone mineral content, and then hopefully it prevents you from having fractures later in life.
Trevor: Yeah. That’s actually new to me, and I learned something just now. So this isn’t maybe like a typical condition where you might experience symptoms. This could be a surprise.
Dr. Tharp: Exactly. And it’s silent. And it affects both men and women, and it affects all races, ages. And it depends upon like I said, it’s usually in older people, but it can occur in people with other diseases. So thyroid disease, renal disease, family history. It can affect them as well.
Trevor: That is interesting. So, I guess that makes this exam even more important, the bone densitometry exam.
And we actually have some video that we’re gonna take a look at. So our viewers at home can kind of see how this exam works.
Dr. Tharp: So here we have our patient who is getting ready to have her exam. Basically, as a patient, you lie upon a table which has an X-ray beam attached to it. The first thing they’ll do is they’ll take two images. They’ll take an image of the lumbar spine and then they’ll take an image of one of your hips. And if you have metal in your hip then they’ll take an image of your forearm.
Both images take less than a minute’s time. And the whole exam takes less than five minutes. It’s very low-level radiation. In fact, the equivalency of this dose of radiation is to being outside for two days. And basically what happens is the X-ray beam goes through the bone and the amount of impedance, if you will, or the amount of X-ray beam that doesn’t penetrate the bone, that tells you how much density is actually within the bone. So we can tell the density of the bone and how much mineral content’s actually within the bone. And then we can give you a diagnosis of different things such as osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Trevor: Wow. And so about how long does an exam like this take for your typical patient?
Dr. Tharp: Less than five minutes. It’s not much of a time constraint. And in fact, many of our patients come in and the female patients will have their screening mammogram done, and then they’ll have the bone densitometry done at the same time.
Trevor: Wow. All of that power and information in such a short amount of time, it really is pretty amazing. And I know you did mention that this is kind of a silent disease, but there are perhaps categories, demographics, certain people who should be paying attention to this. So what would maybe be the best time in a person’s life to get this screening?
Dr. Tharp: Well, the general rule of thumb is to start screening and have your first bone densitometry exam at the age of 65. That is certainly something you want to discuss with your physician because if you do have a family history or if you have other predisposing factors, then starting screening beginning at the age of 50 in some patients is advised.
Trevor: Excellent. And of course, the star of the video that we just saw in fact is Julia. Julia was getting her exam there, her bone densitometry exam.
Julia, we just saw you kind of go through the process there. Let’s chat a little bit about that process. What it was like on your side as a patient? And then I believe we’re gonna actually chat about your results.
Julia Austin: Hi. Yes, it’s so easy. It’s something I’ve done several times because I have a family history. And every time it’s just been very quick—five minutes—painless, and gives me information I really need because of my family history.
Trevor: Absolutely. Information which probably also creates a little peace of mind for you especially given that history. Dr. Tharp, as we look at those results, well, what do we see out of this particular exam?
Dr. Tharp: Well, what I have up here, Julia—first of all I have the lumbar spine image. And I’m looking at your T-score, which compares you to a person your height and weight, that’s 30. And that T-score is -3, which is greater than -2.5. So that puts you on the range of osteoporosis. And then look at your Z-score, which compares you to someone of your own age. And that puts you at -1.6. So being in the osteoporosis range, able to compare that to your last exam, which was done in 2019, and it shows a -11% change your bone mineral density which is considered significant.
Julia: That is a big change. Yeah, it’s good to know though because I’ll speak to my doctor about it and see if there’s something I need to do. I know I already do exercise and yoga and other things to protect my bone health, but it may be time for medication for me.
Dr. Tharp: There are medications that can help with increasing bone mineral density and curbing the loss of the bone mineral density and helping to slow the progression of this disease. There are also other things, like hormone replacement therapy. And as you mentioned, exercise and activity is one of the bigger things that that can help as well.
Julia: So, what kinds of exercise are best do you think, Dr. Tharp?
Dr. Tharp: Well, it’s considered high impact. So walking, running, those kinds of things where you’re actually creating gravity impact upon the bone. So what that does is it tells the bone, “I need to increase density”. And so it will start taking in the minerals and start increasing that density. So low impact things don’t help that much, but you know any kind of exercise is good. But you really want that high impact to help that increase in bone mineral density.
Julia: Well, great. That’s good to know. Not great news, but I certainly don’t want to learn that I have osteoporosis when I have a fracture so …
Dr. Tharp: Exactly. And you know–and the knowledge is power. So now that you have that power, you’re able to do something about it. You’re able to hopefully start the reversal of this process so that as you do grow older, you won’t have fractures. You know, because we worry about hip fractures. We worry about spine fractures and those things can be very debilitating. So hopefully now reversing that process, you won’t have that problem as you grow older.
Julia: Really glad I did it.
Trevor: Yes. And that’s what I love about these ARA segments is, number one, I learn something new every time we bring some of the wonderful doctors from ARA Diagnostic Imaging onto our show. But this in particular just shows how the services that you provide really do provide knowledge and power for patients to get together with their medical team to think about the best way to proceed. It’s been so interesting. Thank you so much.
I know the viewers at home are itching to know how they might be able to get a test like this. Where can we go to learn more?
Dr. Tharp: They can go to our website at ARA. It’s ausrad, A-U-S-R-A-D.com. And there’s information about bone screening, how to schedule that exam and other information that you can discuss with your physician so that you can have this exam done.
Trevor: Well as always Dr. Tharp, Julia, thank you both for joining us today. Julia, thank you for letting us and the viewers at home kind of go along on this journey with you. It’s been very informative and empowering, I’m sure for a lot of people out there. We thank you both for your service to the community.
And thanks for joining us today on We Are Austin.
Dr. Tharp: Thank you, Trevor.
Julia: Thank you.
ARA continues to follow CDC guidelines in requiring employees and patients to wear masks at our imaging centers for the safety of all.