Bone Density Test
A bone density test, also known as clinical densitometry, measures the amount of calcium and other minerals in a person’s bones. Healthy bones have a certain level of these minerals, which provide density and strength. This painless and non-invasive test uses dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to help determine whether a person has osteoporosis — a disease that makes bones more fragile.
Reasons It’s Done
Bone density testing can confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis, indicate a person’s risk of bone fractures, or help to monitor osteoporosis treatments. Women are more likely to suffer from poor bone density than men. Age is another of the main risk factors. If you’ve experienced any of the following, your doctor may order a bone density test:
- A loss of height. People who lose at least 1.5 inches in height are prone to compression fractures caused by osteoporosis.
- Previous bone fracture. You have sustained a fragility fracture, which resulted from an event that would not normally be expected to break a bone. For example, in someone with poor bone health, a sneeze or strong cough could cause a fragility fracture.
- Long-term use of certain drugs. Steroids like prednisone may reduce bone mass by interfering with bone rebuilding.
- Drop in hormone levels. Some cancer treatments lower estrogen in women and reduce testosterone in men. A drop in sex hormone levels causes bones to break easier.
What To Expect During a Bone Density Test
Doctors can gauge overall bone loss by doing a density test on bones that are most likely to break, which are the:
- Forearm bones
- Lumbar vertebrae
On the day of the test, also called a DEXA scan, you can eat normally, but don’t take calcium supplements within 24 hours of the exam. Wear loose clothing and avoid zippers, buttons or belts made of metal.
You simply lie on your back on a padded table. A mechanical arm will move over your body. The test takes about 10 to 30 minutes and you will be exposed to a very low dose of radiation, far below the amount from a chest X-ray.
Your bone density scan will generate a T-score and a Z-score.
Your T-score indicates the strength of your bones, compared to those of a healthy, young adult of the same gender. This score comes in standard deviation units:
- -1 & higher: Normal bone density
- -1 to -2.5: At risk of developing osteoporosis
- -2.5 & lower: Likely have osteoporosis
The Z-score compares your bone strength to that of a healthy adult of the same age, weight, and gender. A score of -2.0 indicates that you might have osteoporosis caused by medications or other conditions, and doctors may recommend more testing.
Scheduling a Bone Density Test
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