ground rules for DEXA

Help for understanding bone density test results

Have you had your DEXA scan which measures your bone density ? If so, you may have found yourself confused by what the results really mean.

If not, you may still be stressed about the possibility, which is understandable given how many practitioners talk about low bone density as the inevitable first step toward osteoporosis.

Whatever your situation, I want to reassure you that knowledge is power when it comes to your bone density test results. Not only is there a lot to know about the numbers themselves, but there are several key “ground rules” that are important to better understand bone density test results in general. I encourage you to take these into account when looking at your own test results:

“Ground rules” for understanding more about DEXA scan results

  1. DEXA scan should be several pages long, have many charts and x-rays of the spine and hip. Obtain copies of your full bone density reports from your DEXA or DXA scans. You’ll want to look at all the results, not just the summary page.
  2. Small changes in bone mineral density are not significant.  Research has shown that at least a 5-6% change on a bone density test is needed to be sure that any change is not simply due to placement on the machine.
  3. Bone density tests do not truly measure bone density.  DXA calculates BMD using area, so it’s not an accurate measurement of true bone mineral density. Those with smaller body size and/or thin, small bones will not get a true measure of their bone density from the scan.
  4. Bone density changes are related to life stage.  The menopause transition generally is a time of accelerated bone loss.
  5. Not all bone density reports are going to look exactly the same.  They may look different, but the reports should all have the same elements.
  6. Using the same type of bone density testing machine is important for comparing results.  Even better is to have the test done in the same location and even with the same operator.

What are the different bone density screening tests?

For more information about the different bone density screening tests, limitations of BMD testing and steps you can take to limit variability in BMD tests, see my article Bone density test.

You can also learn more about how to read your results with my How to read your bone density test video available as a download or a DVD.

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