Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Osteoporosis Health Center

Select An Article

Monitoring Osteoporosis Therapy

Font Size

The controversy of bone density testing in patients already taking osteoporosis medication

The American Medical Association and other reputable medical organizations have determined that repeat bone density testing (DXA scans) is NOT indicated in monitoring osteoporosis treatment or prevention on a routine basis. It is scientifically premature to measure bone density as a way of monitoring the effectiveness of osteoporosis drugs. Doctors simply do not know how to use these repeat bone density measurements during therapy. A few of the most important reasons are:

  1. Bone density changes so slowly with treatment that the changes are smaller than the measurement error of the machine. In other words, repeat DXA scans cannot distinguish between a real increase in bone density due to treatment or a mere variation in measurement from the machine itself.
  1. The real goal of osteoporosis treatment is to decrease future bone fractures. There is no good correlation between increases in bone density with decreases in fracture risks with treatment. For example, alendronate has been shown to decrease fracture risk by 50%, but only to increase bone density by a few percent. In fact, most of the fracture reduction with raloxifene is not explained by raloxifene's effects on bone mineral density.
  1. One density measurement taken during treatment will not help the doctor plan or modify treatment. For example, even if the DXA scan shows continued deterioration in bone density during treatment, there is not yet research data demonstrating that changing a drug, combining medications, or doubling medication doses will be safe and helpful in decreasing the future risk of fractures.
  1. An important note: even if bone density deteriorates during treatment, it is quite likely that the patient would have lost even more bone density without treatment.
  1. Recent research has shown that women who lose bone density after the first year of menopausal hormone therapy will gain bone density in the next two years, whereas women who gain in the first year will tend to lose density in the next two years of therapy. Therefore, bone density during treatment naturally fluctuates and this may not be relevant to the fracture protection of the medication.

For all of these reasons, as surprising as it may sound to many people (and even some doctors), rechecking bone density is not at all like checking blood pressure during treatment of high blood pressure. Routine bone density testing during treatment is unlikely to be helpful. In the future, however, if ongoing research brings new technology or new therapies, testing decisions will clearly change.

Recommended Related to Osteoporosis

Preventing Osteoporosis: 9 Questions and Answers

Experts consider osteoporosis a largely preventable disease. Prevention should start early. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D as a child and teenager can dramatically cut your risks of developing osteoporosis later in life. Even if you're an adult, eating a healthy diet, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising, and avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, may help prevent osteoporosis. After menopause, women who have osteopenia, or thinning of the bones,...

Read the Preventing Osteoporosis: 9 Questions and Answers article > >

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on December 29, 2013
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Women working out and walking with weights
Reduce bone loss and build stronger muscles.
Chinese cabbage
Calcium-rich foods to add to your diet.
woman stretching
Get the facts on osteoporosis.
Porous bone
Causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.
senior woman
Woman holding plate of brocolli
wrist xray
Superfood for Bones
mature woman
sunlight in hands
man and woman in front of xray
woman with dumbbells