A Journalist's Research On Bone Scans Leads To Discovery About Herself : Shots - Health News An NPR producer decided to find out how dense her bones are during research for a story on the marketing of Merck's drug Fosamax and the condition of osteopenia. The results raised more questions for her than they answered.
NPR logo A Journalist's Research On Bone Scans Leads To Discovery About Herself

A Journalist's Research On Bone Scans Leads To Discovery About Herself

After two months of working on a story about conditions I either had never heard of or that rarely crossed my mind, I learned a few weeks back that I have one—osteopenia.

Scan results for my left hip. NPR hide caption

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NPR

Scan results for my left hip.

NPR

Because I haven't gone through menopause, my diagnosis at this point is just a number on a graph that shows my bone density is a bit lower than it probably should be.

Some of the risk factors for low bone density developing into a bigger problem are being white, thin, and if a first-degree relative has had osteoporosis. I fall into two of the three categories, at least.

Premenopausal women don't usually get bone scans. I decided to find out how dense my bones are during research for a story on the marketing of Merck's drug Fosamax and the condition of osteopenia.

After getting the results, I called my ob-gyn, who told me not to worry about the number. At my age, he said, I shouldn't even consider taking any drugs.

What should I do? He recommended upping my calcium intake and getting my vitamin D level tested. If it's low, he said, I should consider doing something about. Oh, and one other thing, he advised me to find time for real exercise—not just hauling around my 2- and 4-year-old kids.

Working on this story took me deep into one of the gray zones of modern medicine. I consider myself to be a pretty well-informed health consumer, but I still had to remind myself to ask questions, especially about some of the statistics thrown my way.

A drug may, for example, reduce fracture risk by 50 percent. But what was the absolute risk of a bone breaking in the first place? If that number is already very low, then the benefit from taking a drug can be vanishingly small.

Even now, after all the research I've done, it's difficult to know what to make of my bone-density report. But one thing I'm definitely going to do is make sure my mother gets her bones scanned. Her mother's shoulders gently rounded in the decade before she died, a sign of bone trouble.

Perhaps I do have a first-degree relative with osteoporosis. If that's the case, then I'd have an even bigger incentive to eat better and get some exercise.