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Bone Density: A Clue to Your Future

DEXA bone density scans: Will you glide into your golden years or live out a fractured fairy tale?
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Bone Density Scans: Your Results continued...

A T score of minus one and higher is normal, Templeton says. "Osteopenia(bone mass lower than normal peak bone mass) is below minus one to minus 2.5. Lower than minus 2.5 is osteoporosis."

A negative Z score means you have thinner bones than the average of others in your age group; positive means you have better.

If your Z score is lower than others your age, it can be a tip-off, Templeton says, that something else is medically happening. "It may not be anything serious," she says. "Maybe you're not getting enough vitamin D."

The Bone Density Test Reality

Like other medical tests, the bone density test isn't perfect. While it can help predict who will have a fracture, and may need treatment or lifestyle changes, it's not foolproof. And, Templeton says, experts have discovered recently that the bone's architecture -- how well your bones are put together -- may also play an important role in predicting fractures.

"If you look at the women who have fractures, a lot don't have osteoporosis based on the DEXA [results]," Templeton says. Researchers speculate that in these cases bone architecture may be the problem -- but as yet, there is no realistic way to evaluate it.

Results also aren't as accurate if you are smaller or larger than average, Cosman says. So the test may underestimate your bone density if you are 5 feet tall or shorter, and may overestimate it if you are 5 feet 10 inches or taller.

Using the Bone Density Test Results

Depending on the test results, your health care provider may suggest a number of actions, from starting medication that helps maintain or build bone, to urging you to exercise more and pay attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake.

The schedule for the repeat test depends on the results and opinions differ. "If there is well-preserved bone, my rule is to repeat every five years," Cosman says. "If it's in the medium range -- one to two years. If it's very low and you are on medication -- every year."

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How do you protect your bones?