Updated: October 1, 2022
Bone density tests allow you to know whether you are at risk of developing osteoporosis before anything bad begins to happen. Years ago, the only time osteoporosis could be detected was after you broke a bone. By then, however, your bones might already be quite weak. Today bone density tests, which are also called densitometry or DEXA scans, can determine if you have osteoporosis or are at risk of osteoporosis before you break any bones.
Bone density tests use special X-rays to measure the grams of calcium and other bone minerals packed into a given segment of bone. It is a pretty accurate risk predictor. The results from bone density tests can let you know how you compare as far as bone mass with other people of your age, gender, and other similar characteristics.
When your mineral content is high, your bones are dense. Dense bones are strong and less likely to break. Physicians use bone density tests to determine if you have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
You should know that bone density tests are not the same as bone scans. Bone scans are used to detect fractures, cancer, infections and other abnormalities in the bones. They require an injection beforehand.
It is generally recommended that you get a bone density scan if you are over 65 or if you are 60 or over with symptoms consistent with osteoporosis. Generally, bone density tests are taken at least two years apart in order to accurately measure change.
Your bones become weaker as your age. Bone mass is maximized at age 25 and decreases all the time thereafter.
Whites and Asians are most at risk of developing osteoporosis. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis, and should therefore seriously consider bone density tests if their doctor prescribes them.
If your doctor recommends the test, ask whether your insurance covers them. Unfortunately, not all insurance policies cover bone density tests and they can be quite expensive.
On their own, bone density tests can tell you about your bone mass, but they can not tell you why you have low bone density. For that, you need a complete medical history and a physical.
Bone density tests are usually done on the bones which tend to break because of osteoporosis including the lumbar vertebrae, which are in the lower region of your spine, the narrow neck of your femur bone adjoining the hip, and the bones of your wrist and forearm.
The bone density tests equipment includes large machines which you can lie down on as well as smaller, portable machines that measure bone density on the periphery of your skeleton, such as in your finger, wrist or heel. The portable devices can sometimes be used in a drug store without having to go to a doctorís office.
You will receive a T-Score which tells you how you compare to a young adult of your gender. A 0 would indicate that you have the bones of a 30 year old. Anything above -1 is considered fine. Between -1 and -2.5 and you are considered to have pre-osteoporosis or osteopenia, and below -2.5 is considered to be full fledged osteoporosis.
If you are in a risk category, consider getting your bone density tests right away.