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The two lowest cost methods of measuring bone density are radiogrammetry and photon absorptiometry. These methods also have the advantages of being widely available and are of relatively low radiation dose for the patient.
An underlying factor in the analysis of an osteoporosis sufferer is that bone fractures are as a result of loss in bone mass at the fracture area, frequently the hips and the wrist. Although this assumption has a lot of truth in it, it is not quite the whole story as other factors such as intrinsic skeletal abnormalities also need to be considered. Another important factor that can have a huge impact on the osteoporosis suffer is muscle weakness. This weakness may lead to more frequent falls and hence are higher chance of a fracture occurring even if there has been no change in bone density.
An important fact is that the bone density measured at peripheral sites may not actually be a sign of what is going on in other parts of the skeleton. Both photon absorptiometry and radiogrammetry generally measure the cortical bone; this means that a decrease in bone density in the trabecular bone of the spine may not be accurately measured. Nonetheless the detection of low bone mass by these non-invasive methods is generally a tell tale sign that skeletal bone mass has been lost.
There are many factors that lead to a loss of bone mass, in addition to age and a change in hormones in women approaching the menopause, factors such as race, sex and a persons body frame are all influential in the rate of change in ones bone density. These factors make it very difficult to ascertain if a person truly has an abnormal change in bone mass; however, advances in statistical analysis and computational models have made the information that has been gathered on bone mass much more accurate.
In addition to speculating if an osteoporosis sufferer has a decrease in bone mass, a great advantage of non-invasive bone density testing methods is that they can be used to follow any changes in individual patients over time. Typically women well lose between one and two percent of cortical bone per annum, the regular use of non-invasive methods can help to tell if there has been any increase in changes of bone density that should be addressed by treatments such as hormone replacement therapy.