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A bone mineral density test is the most effective tool for diagnosing osteopenia. Your doctor may recommend this if a medical exam and assessment of risk factors seem to warrant it. After diagnosing osteopenia, your doctor may decide to continue with bone density tests to measure your response to treatment.

Diagnosing Osteopenia: Bone Mineral Density Test

Bone density tests are useful for diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis. Following a medical exam and assessment of risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you have your bone mass measured. A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the best way to determine your bone health.
The most widely recognized bone mineral density test is called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA test. It is painless -- kind of like having an x-ray, but with less exposure to radiation. It can measure bone density at your hip and spine. Bone density tests can also:
  • Detect low bone density before a fracture occurs
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis if you already have one or more fractures
  • Predict your chances of having a fracture in the future
  • Determine your rate of bone loss
  • Monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more.
The results of the DEXA test are scored in comparison to the BMD of young, healthy individuals, resulting in a measurement called a T-score. If your T-score is -2.5 or lower, you are considered to have osteoporosis, and therefore you are at high risk for a fracture. T-scores between -1.0 and -2.5 are generally considered to show osteopenia. The risk of fractures is generally lower in people with osteopenia when compared with those with osteoporosis, but if bone loss continues, the risk for fracture increases.
If you are age 65 or older, you should get a bone density test. If you are between the ages of 60 and 64, weigh less than 154 pounds, and don't take estrogen, it is a good idea to get a bone density test. Don't wait until age 65. You have a higher chance for breaks and fractures.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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