Do you need a DEXA bone density test?

The Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group published a nice study in the New England Journal of Medicine providing evidence-based guidelines for the appropriate interval for the testing of women for bone density. This bone density test is often referred to as a “DEXA” or “DXA” scan which is short for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.

The recommendations from the study were based upon the amount of time it would take for 10% of the women in each group with either normal bone density or reduced bone density, known as osteopenia, to progress to osteoporosis before a fracture occurred and treatment was begun.

This interval was found to be every 15 years for women with normal bone density or mild osteopenia, 5 years for those with moderate osteopenia and testing at 1 year intervals for those with severe osteopenia.

While every woman may not be comfortable with this recommendation, it is an evidence-based guideline that will be useful for all of us as practitioners as we try to find the right balance between appropriate and excessive testing. This recommendation should provide the reassurance both patients and physicians seek when following these conditions and deciding when and how often to test and treat this condition.