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Dexa scan -- can they make mistakes?

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Old 08-26-2008, 07:40 AM   #1
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 2
Jackie111 HB User
Dexa scan -- can they make mistakes?


I got a Dexa scan yesterday for bone density. 2 years ago, I had a scan and my lumbar vertebrae were around t scores of -2.5. A year and a half ago I also got a scan, and my lumbar vertebrae were between T score -4 to T score -5.6. I have been consistently working on building bone the last year and a half. Yesterday's results showed my lumbars built my T scores are sitting around -2.8 to -3.3. I was amazed and delighted...could I really have built back this much bone?

For my hip measurements, they came out close to the same as they were a year and a half ago.

I know the DEXA scan is supposed to be the most reliable test out there. I already know that arthritis and atherosclerosis can affect reliability -- I don't have those.

So my question is: is it possible that some kind of mistake could have been made on the test a year and a half ago -- i.e., the technician typed something in wrong, etc.? Are there any kinds of mistakes that are typically made with this type of test?

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Old 08-26-2008, 08:22 AM   #2
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Kamloops BC, Canada
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starfish81 HB User
Re: Dexa scan -- can they make mistakes?

Hi Jackie! Before you get any answers, a couple of things: first of all, were all the DEXA's done on the same machine? Also, are you menopausal, and if so, how long have you been in meno? Did you take any medications for bone-building after the first DEXA 2 years ago, and if so, what did you take?

I do know that DEXA machines vary and that is why it is recommended that the same machine be used for future scans to enable a valid comparison. If you did have the same machine, is it possible that 1 vertebra was left out of the "total" calculation? That happened to me once; L1 was omitted and as a result my score "stayed the same" when in reality it got worse.

Along the lines of your original question, here's something to ponder: I have a friend who's a physiotherapist. She had a client around my age (52) who had her first DEXA which showed "osteoporosis" of the lumbar...I think it was something like -2.6, although she had no history of fractures. Her doctor wanted her on medication for this immediately. She called her brother, who is also a doctor but in another province. He agreed with the choice of medication but for some reason suggested she have the DEXA repeated before she started taking drugs. Well, she did that (I don't know how she did, since in Canada we can't pay for procedures so I don't see how the original doctor got the scan repeated so close to the original date...but anyway. Maybe she went to a different clinic; I'm not sure). And guess what? The next scan put her at -1.7! Not wonderful, but definitely not osteoporosis.

So in answer to your question, yes, I believe there can be mistakes. Anyone else out there have a story to share?

Old 08-26-2008, 09:04 AM   #3
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 2
Jackie111 HB User
Re: Dexa scan -- can they make mistakes?

Hi Starfish,

Thank you for your reply. I am 46 years old, post-menopausal since age of 34. They didn't leave out any vertebrae...I was just giving an example. Most of my lumbars 2 years ago (let's call it SCAN #1) came out to be around T -2.5; my hips were -3. to -3.3. Then the doc put me on Forteo...the side effects were so awful I only stayed on it 5 months.

Then I re-tested (the scan 1 1/2 years ago, "SCAN #2" to find my hips had improved (-1.86 to -2.5), and lumbar spine had lumbars were around -4 and L3 was -5.6. That was scary. I had been doing martial arts which focused mostly on strenghtening the hips and no real weight bearing for the it seems the hips benefited and not the back.

Then I found a fabulous naturopath and have consistently been taking natural HRT, calcium, vit. D, plus pilates and martial arts the last year and a half.

So yesterday's scan (SCAN #3) showed -2.8 for L 1, 2, and 3, and -3.3 for L4 and L5.

So I question whether they made a mistake on the lumbar part of SCAN #2, since it showed such a decrease compared to SCAN #1, and then such and increase with SCAN #3 -- like maybe the technician pushed the wrong button in SCAN #2 when he scanned the lumbar part? It seems to make more sense that it would have been somewhere in the -2 to -3 range in scan #2.

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