From Our Archives
How Often Should I Get a Bone Mineral Density
Medical Author: Carolyn Janet Crandall, MD, MS
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP,
This question sounds like it should have an easy answer.
After all, a person taking blood pressure medication certainly checks blood
pressure readings to adjust the dose of the medicine, right? Unfortunately,
repeating bone mineral density tests (called serial bone mineral density testing
) is not that simple.
In fact, it's quite controversial. Here are some reasons why. First, the usual
rate of decline in bone density in postmenopausal women who are not
taking therapy is about 1% per year. This is less than the error of the machine, which
is about 3%. So, you wouldn't be able to tell whether a decrease of 2% over a
year was "real" or possibly just the error of the machine.
What about the issues in women
already taking osteoporosis therapy?
In postmenopausal women taking osteoporosis
decrease in risk of fracture is almost totally due to factors other than bone mineral density
changes. For example, one study showed that percentage changes in bone density
with one osteoporosis medication (raloxifene, Evista) accounted for 4% of the observed
protection against fracture, and the other 96% of the risk reduction remained
unexplained. This is probably due to the fact that osteoporosis medications work
in other ways, besides changing bone mineral density, such as improving the
strength of the bone. This improvement in strength of bone cannot be measured on
a bone density scan. In other words, decrease in bone density predicts fracture
risk reliably in postmenopausal women who are not taking therapy, but does not
reliably predict fracture risk in postmenopausal women who are taking
osteoporosis therapy. This is proven repeatedly in recent research and is
mis-understood even by most physicians.