Bone Density

A bone density test determines if you have osteoporosis-a disease that causes bone to become more fragile and more likely to break.

In the past, osteoporosis could be detected only after you broke a bone. By that time, however, your bones could be quite weak. A bone density test makes it possible to know your risk of breaking bones before the fact.

A bone density test uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone. The bones that are most commonly tested are the spine and hip.

Why its done

Doctors use bone density testing to:

  • Identify decreases in bone density before you break a bone
  • Determine your risk for breaking a bone
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis if you have experienced broken bones
  • Monitor osteoporosis treatments

The higher your bone mineral content, the denser your bones are. And the denser your bones, the stronger they generally are and the less likely to break.

Although osteoporosis is more common in older women, men also can develop the condition. Regardless of your sex or age, your doctor may recommend a bone density test if you have:

  • Lost height
  • Fractured a bone
  • Taken certain drugs
  • Received a transplant
  • Experienced a drop in hormone level


There are virtually no risk when having a bone density exam. The amount of radiation you are exposed to is very low, much less than a chest X-ray.

How to prepare

Bone density test are easy, fast and painless. Virtually no preparation is needed.

Do be sure to tell your doctor beforehand if you have recently had a barium enema or contrast material injected for a CT scan or nuclear medicine test. These contrast agents might interfere with your bone density test.

What you can expect

Bone density test are usually done on bones that are most likely to break because of osteoporosis including the lower spine and the hip. You will lie on a padded table while a mechanical arm passes over your body. The test usually takes about 15 minutes to complete.


The Radiologist views and interprets the results and will send a final report to your doctor, who will then explain the results to you.

Thursday the 13th. Copyright 2012, Three Rivers Hospital