T-Scores & Bone Density

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Dear NWHN,

What is the average t score?  What should it be.  I am 63.

Dear Friend,

Dear Irene, Thank you for contacting the National Women's Health Network with your inquiry about t-scores. As an organization dedicated to helping women make informed decisions about their health, we are pleased that you are advocating for yours. We are happy to provide you with health information but are not licensed medical professionals and thus unable to provide medical advice or diagnosis.

First I’ll give a little bit of background about where t-scores are derived from, and then I’ll explain how t-scores work. The most common screening tool is a DEXA X-ray scan, which measures bone mineral density (BMD) in the hip or spine. DEXA results (called “T scores”) compare a middle-aged woman’s bone density to that of a healthy young adult (almost guaranteeing the scan will reveal bone loss, since everyone loses bone with age). A woman whose bone density is significantly lower than a young adult’s is diagnosed with osteoporosis.

T-scores are derived from how many standard deviations your bone density is from the point of comparison. The point of comparison is a healthy young person of your sex. A t-score that is above -1 is considered normal. A t-score that is between -1 and -2.5 is a sign of ostopenia, a condition in which bone density is below normal and may lead to osteoporosis. A t-score that is below -2.5 means the patient has osteoporosis. This chart, made by the Mayo Clinic, visually explains what t-scores mean http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM03587.

Using this explanation of t-scores, you can discuss with your doctor what your t-score should be as a 63 year old woman. Please know that bone density almost certainly decreases with age, so don’t be alarmed if your t-score is not close to the zero point that signifies a healthy young woman. The National Women’s Health Network feels that many women under age 65 are being screened for osteopenia and osteoporosis despite the fact that early screening has not been shown to prevent the most serious fractures. We encourage women under age 65 to reject bone density screening unless they have unusual circumstances that increase risk factors.

To answer your question I used the an article from the Women’s Health Activist Newsletter entitled “Osteoporosis Drugs - Controversies & Challenges” http://nwhn.org/osteoporosis-drugs-controversies-challenges, an NWHN fact sheet on Osteoporosis http://nwhn.org/osteoporosis, and a Mayo Clinic article on bone density tests http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bone-density-test/MY00304.

I hope this information is helpful to you. We support your decision to take care of your health and urge you to continue active inquiry regarding your health care. If the information provided does not meet your specific needs or you have more questions on this topic or on any topic regarding women’s health, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The National Women's Health Network is an independent membership-based organization that advocates for women’s health at the national level. To learn more about becoming a member please visit http://nwhn.org/support. If you are interested in receiving health information alerts via e-mail, please sign up for our e-alert list, http://nwhn.org/join. Again, thank you for contacting the National Women’s Health Network and I hope you have a better understanding of t-scores.

NWHN Health Information Intern


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