A bone mineral density (BMD) test, also called a bone mass measurement, is a way to see if your bones are healthy and strong and is used to measure bone density and determine fracture risk for osteoporosis. It may also be used to determine how effective an osteoporosis treatment is.
Your health care provider orders a bone mineral density test to check your bone health. It may be done for several reasons. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends BMD testing for the following individuals:
Your bones naturally lose some density as you get older. The loss of density weakens the bones. If your bones are somewhat less dense than normal, you have osteopenia. If your bones have lost a lot of density, you have osteoporosis.
Each year there are approximately 700,000 spine fractures and 250,000 hip fractures in the US. Most of these fractures occur in people who have osteoporosis. To help prevent such fractures, it is important to diagnose osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can then be treated with diet, exercise, and sometimes medicines to help make the bones strong again.
Bone mineral density tests are much more sensitive than normal x-rays. Normal x-rays do not detect bone loss until at least 30% of the bone mass has been lost. Bone mineral density tests allow health care providers to diagnose weakening bones at earlier stages. The test helps your health care provider decide if you need treatment for osteoporosis.
There are several different kinds of bone mineral density tests. Some use sound waves (ultrasound). Others use small amounts of radiation.
Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) is the most commonly done of the tests that use radiation. It is painless. During the test you lie down on a padded table. It is best not to move while the test is being done, but you can breathe normally. It takes just a few minutes to check the bone density of your spine and hip. (The hip and spine are the most common areas checked because they are most prone to fracture if your bones are weakened.) The amount of radiation used for this test is very low. It is about the same amount you would get on a long plane flight and less than you are exposed to during a typical chest x-ray.
There are other tests besides the DEXA scan. Different tests have different strengths and weaknesses. Talk to your health care provider about which test is right for you.
We mail health information results for any and all patients who have had labs and procedures done. If you have not received any results after one week, please call our office to follow-up.
The test results are expressed as 2 types of scores:
The T score is usually used to make treatment decisions using a statistical measure called a standard deviation (SD). The SD measures the difference between your BMD and that of a healthy young adult (the reference value). Every -1 SD ("minus 1 standard deviation") equals a 10 to 12% decrease in bone density. T score results are classified as follows:
T score (SD) Bone Density Classification
Above -1 normal
-1 to -2.5 osteopenia (low bone mass)
Below -2.5 osteoporosis (very low bone mass)
The T score is used to interpret the test results if you are outside the normal testing range (very young or very old). It is the number of standard deviations (SD) above or below the reference value for your age.
The result of your test has to be interpreted along with your overall health, your risk factors for osteoporosis, and your lifestyle. Your health care provider will take all of these factors into account before deciding whether you need treatment and what the treatment might be. For some people, just getting more exercise and eating a better diet or taking calcium and vitamin D supplement is enough. Other people need medicine to restore their bone density. You may need to repeat the test again in a year or two to see if the health of your bones has changed.
It's always a good idea to talk to your health care provider about your results and make sure that you understand what they mean. If your test results are not normal, ask your health care provider:
Are you at risk and may require therapy, prior to office visit please visit: https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/decision-aids/osteoporosis/1/
We encourage you to bring the print out and responses to your next office visit when weighing decisions about therapy.
Written by Tom Richards
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
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