Osteoporosis Screening Tip: Is it Time for Your Bone Density Test?

What is bone density?
Doctors use the term bone density to describe bone mass or strength. The denser a bone, the stronger it is. The key is to keep bones dense and strong throughout life. However, bones can be weakened by various factors, including smoking, poor diet, menopause, and some medications.

Doctors Examining Medical TestsWhy does bone density matter?
Strong dense bones are essential! Bones with low density are more likely to fracture!

Low bone density or mass is known as osteopenia or osteoporosis. Osteoporosis develops when the body cannot replace old bone cells with new bone cells fast enough. When osteoporosis develops, bones become porous (with holes), brittle and fragile, and are at risk for fracture. Although any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, the spine, hips and wrists are at greatest risk.

Is it easy to measure bone density?
The good news is that doctors can perform a painless and quick test to measure your bone density. Sometimes this test is called a Bone Mineral Density test or, it is simply abbreviated BMD.

A BMD reveals your T-Score. Like knowing your cholesterol level, knowing your T-Score is an important part of your health snapshot. Your T-Score is determined by comparing your bone density to that of an ?average? young adult.

For example:

Normal bone density: -1.0
Low bone density: -1.0 to -2.5
High risk/osteoporosis -2.5 or higher

These T-Scores are only examples and you must discuss your T-Score with your doctor.

Bone Density Test Q&A
Many common questions and answers about Bone Mineral Density (BMD) testing appear below. SpineUniverse encourages you to talk to you doctor about bone density testing. The test can help identify osteoporosis so treatment can be started before you suffer a spinal or other bone fracture.

Is a bone density test the best testing option?
Bone density testing is the most reliable way to predict and detect low bone mass before a spinal or other fracture happens! Plus BMD can confirm an osteoporosis diagnosis and is a valuable tool to help the doctor decide the best treatment.

What should I expect during a bone density test?
Expect to be in and out quickly! This painless test only takes about 10 minutes. You will lie flat on your back on a padded table. The DXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) machine scans the spine and hip. The radiology technician may place a special pillow under your knees for part of the test. Don?t worry about radiation exposure ? it is minimal.

Is DXA the only type of machine used to test bone density?
No, there are other machines but DXA and CT (Computerized Tomography) are used to measure bone density in the spine and hip. Doctors often prefer DXA or CT because it takes longer for osteoporosis to affect other parts of the body such as the heel or fingers.

Do I need to prepare for the test?
The only preparation needed is to delay taking your calcium supplement until after the test. Wear comfortable clothing preferably without metal (e.g. underwire bra, zipper, belt buckle). Be sure to call the radiology facility the day before to review their instructions specific to your BMD.

Can anyone have a BMD test?
No. If you are pregnant or think you may be, you cannot have a BMD.

How often should I repeat a bone density test?
Your doctor will decide how often to repeat the test.

Updated on: 08/17/15
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Osteoporosis Condition Center

Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but bone fractures of the spine—the vertebrae—are especially serious.
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