Monitoring Bone Density When You Have Osteoporosis
To track the progress of osteoporosis treatment and progression of the disease, regular bone density testing is a must.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurLiving with Chronic PainNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
Bone density testing is important not only for diagnosing osteoporosis, but also for monitoring a patient's progress and response to osteoporosis treatment.
In fact, one of the best uses of bone density testing is to track changes in bone density over time. This becomes particularly useful for people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and are undergoing treatment, as a way to evaluate and adjust the effectiveness of a patient's osteoporosis treatment as necessary. The goals of osteoporosis treatment are to slow or stop bone loss, and perhaps begin to rebuild bones and reduce the risk of a fracture. Once you begin treatment, your doctor will likely monitor your progress by performing follow-up tests at regular intervals.
The Importance of DEXA Bone Density Scans
The test most often used to monitor osteoporosis treatment is called central dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, also known as DEXA or DXA. DEXA scans use weak X-ray radiation to determine how much bone mineral is present in your bones. You will usually be able to remain dressed during a DEXA scan, and it typically takes less than 15 minutes. The exam is painless.
Bones in the hip and spine are typically the focus of a DEXA scan to measure bone density — also called a central DEXA scan. If it's not possible to take a central scan for some reason (for example, the machine cannot accommodate people who weigh over 300 pounds), a peripheral DEXA scan (sometimes called a p-DEXA) can be done on the radius bone in the forearm, the heel, or the wrist. P-DEXA scans are not considered as high quality as central DEXA scans.
The results of a DEXA scan are reported as "T-scores," which compare your bone density to that of a normal 30-year-old adult woman — the age of peak bone density, or the highest bone density the body will ever achieve. The lower your T-score, the lower your bone density. A T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis, and that osteoporosis medication is probably necessary. Your DEXA result may also include a Z-score, which compares your bone density to the average bone density of someone who is your age and in your height and weight range. Health care providers use these results to determine your risk of fractures in the future.
If your health care provider suspects you have a broken bone, he or she may also perform a standard X-ray to check for fractures. But since standard X-rays cannot detect changes in bone density like DEXA can, you will still need to have a DEXA scan.
It is ideal to have repeated DEXA scans in the same location using the same machine, because this makes it easier to compare your results from different time periods. For someone taking osteoporosis medication, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends having a DEXA test performed every two years to monitor your progress.
Other Ways to Measure Bone Density
There are other tests used to measure bone density and predict the risk of fractures, but these are not considered of high enough quality to monitor osteoporosis treatment. These tests are often offered in locations like pharmacies and health fairs, and include:
Quantitative ultrasound (QUS):A sound wave exam of the bones
Quantitative computed tomography (QCT):A CT scan to measure hip and spine density
Peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT):A CT scanner is used to measure heel, wrist, and other smaller bones.
If you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you should carefully follow your medical team's advice regarding your osteoporosis treatment and follow-up.
Video: New Drugs Improve Osteoporosis Treatment
45 Ways Fashion Girls Are Wearing Pastels ThisSpring
The New Flu Vaccines Available This Year
Sterilisation in your lunch break
You probably missed this tiny, but important, detail in the fifth Harry Potter book
Why I Mourn My Mother While She Is Alive
How This 45-Year-Old Woman Lost 16 Pounds In 8 Weeks
Topman Lux Collection
Antibiotic Use by Seniors Highest in South
How to Make Money Online: FAQs
How to Reduce Financial Risk