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What is a Bone Density Test?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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A bone density test is a test that can diagnose and help determine a person’s risk for developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become fragile and break, effects mostly older women, but not exclusively. A bone density test measures the amounts of certain minerals within any given area of bone. The more densely packed the minerals are within the bone, the less the risk of developing the disease. The bone density test is both a diagnostic and a screening tool.

Doctors recommend that all women age 65 and older and people age 60 and over with risk factors for developing osteoporosis, such as family history, low body weight, history of fractures, and medications that cause bone loss, should have a bone density test. The tests are offered at hospitals and other major medical facilities and are sometimes available at pharmacies or clinics offering health screenings.

There is essentially no preparation required for a bone density test, with the exception of notifying your doctor if you have recently had any nuclear tests performed as injected dye can interfere with the results of a bone density test. The test is painless and takes only a few minutes.

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A bone density test involves the use of a central device and some peripheral devices. The bones that are most likely to break, including the hip, the lower spine, the small bones of the neck, the wrist and forearm, are scanned using imaging technology and the contents measured. The results are then recorded and can help doctors determine if a patient has normal bone density, is at risk for developing osteoporosis, or already has the disease. No recovery or post-care is necessary after a bone density test.

Since older, post-menopausal women are at the most risk for osteoporosis, a bone density test is an excellent screening device and can help doctors and patients work together to prevent the disease. In some cases, insurance or Medicare may not pay for a bone density test so patients should check their coverage before scheduling a test. However, women’s health clinics and hospitals sometimes offer bone density tests and other health screenings at reduced rates to promote healthy living. If you think you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis talk to your doctor about the cost and the benefits of a bone density test.

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fify
Post 4

From what I understand, doctors don't always scan the same places for each patient during the bone density test procedure. I've heard from friends and family that some only had their hip and spine scanned, whereas a couple only had their arm or neck. One actually had a whole body scan during the test.

Doesn't this affect the results? Why do doctors do this? Why don't they just scan everything?

I'm planning on scheduling a bone density test with my doctor soon. I'm over sixty and have never had one before. But I want to make sure that I'm getting scanned properly. I wonder if doctors only scan areas people have had problems with before?

Does anyone know?

ysmina
Post 3

@ddljohn-- I don't go every year, but once every two years. I'm currently on medication, so I get the test to see how my bone density is doing and if the medications are being effective.

I really like the bone density test. It's one of the few medical tests that are completely pain and preparation free! And the technicians that do the test are usually so friendly. My technician always shows me my results on the computer. They have a graph that shows where the patient is at with bone density currently and what their bone density will look like in the future.

So based on how you're doing now, you can see where your osteoporosis will be in ten or twenty years. Some people find that depressive but that actually motivates me to work harder for better bones.

ddljohn
Post 2

The article is correct, women in menopause are at high risk for developing osteoporosis. So if you went into menopause at age fifty, don't wait until age sixty to get a bone density test. I think all women should get a bone density test after entering menopause. And if there is any loss of density found, you need to go back to get tested once a year.

My mom has been getting tested every year since menopause. Several years ago, her bone density test results showed some loss of density. It's not high enough to require use of medication. But she is getting tested every year to see if the rate of loss has increased. Thankfully, it's been constant.

Along with eating enough calcium and regular exercise, annual bone density testing is the best way to prevent osteoporosis in women.

ivanka
Post 1

Exercise seems to help maintain bone density. So, do take the test to check the health of your bones, but also exercise to make sure you retain, and possibly even increase your bone density.

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