DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a 63-year-old woman, and recently I had a screening test for osteoporosis. My “T-score” was minus 2.7. What does this mean?
DEAR READER: Several tests can assess bone density. The most common, considered the gold standard for osteoporosis screening, is known as “dual energy X-ray absorptiometry” (DEXA). For this test, a machine sends X-rays through your bones in order to calculate bone density.
The DEXA scan gives you a number called a T-score. Your T-score represents how your bone density compares with that of a woman at peak bone density. Doctors use the following guidelines to interpret your results:
• If your T-score is minus 1 or greater: Your bone density is considered normal.
• If your T-score is between minus 1 and minus 2.5: You have low bone density, known as osteopenia, but you don’t have osteoporosis.
• If your T-score is minus 2.5 or less: You have osteoporosis.
Now that you know you have osteoporosis, take steps to lower your fracture risk:
• Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Dairy foods, salmon, kale and spinach will help you get the recommended 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day. Add a glass of fortified orange juice or low-fat milk, or take vitamin D supplements to help you reach the 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D you also need.
• Do weight-bearing exercises. Climbing stairs, walking around the park, playing tennis or dancing are all weight-bearing exercises that strengthen bones.
• Skip the soda. Some studies suggest colas can contribute to bone loss.
• Don’t smoke. It can lead to bone loss. If you get a fracture, it will take longer to heal.
• Limit alcohol to one drink or less a day. Heavy drinking weakens bones.
Because your T-score indicates that you have osteoporosis, your doctor may also recommend drug therapy to slow bone loss.