Bone Density Scans and Bone Health Screenings

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A bone density scan can detect thinning bones at an early stage. If you already have osteoporosis, bone scans can also tell you how fast the disease is progressing.

But an abnormal bone scan can create as many questions as it answers. Who should get a bone density scan, and what do the results mean? If your bone density is below normal, what can you expect, and what should you do?

A Date With DEXA

Most bone scans use a technology called DEXA (for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). In a osteopenia, meaning below-normal bone density without full osteoporosis.

Multiplying the T-score by 10% gives a rough estimate of how much bone density has been lost.

Z-scores are not used to formally diagnose osteoporosis. Low Z-scores can sometimes be a clue to look for a insurance companies will pay for a bone scan every two years in women with osteoporosis or who are at high risk. Because the response to treatment occurs slowly, this is usually an acceptable time interval, according to Rhee.

“In cases with high bone turnover rates, like women taking high-dose steroids,” checking bone density as often as every six months may be necessary, says Rhee.

For women with a normal bone scan, waiting a few years to retest is fine, adds Rhee.

Another thing to keep in mind: not all DEXA scanners are created equal. There are slight differences in the calibration of different manufacturers’ machines. Ideally, you should get all your bone scans on the same DEXA scanner. Getting retested on a different manufacturer’s scanner could give a false impression of bone loss (or gain).

Besides the Bone Scan: Other Tests for Osteoporosis

Are other tests needed besides a bone scan for osteoporosis? Certain medical conditions can cause thinning of the bones. These include:

By taking your medical history and checking routine laboratory tests, your doctor can detect these and other causes for low bone density.

Since estrogen keeps bones strong, can getting your estrogen levels checked help? “>heavy periods might need hormone checks. But for the vast majority, “DEXA is the only test they need.”