What you should know about a bone density scan

Younger woman walking next to older woman

Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones”, is not just a disease of the frail elderly.  Osteoporosis is a chronic condition when there is depletion of bone calcium resulting in weakened bones that break easily.

Osteoporosis is usually painless until a fracture occurs, which is usually the hip, spine or wrist.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Twenty-five million Americans have osteoporosis. About 80 percent are women. However, men are also at risk of developing the disease. Determining risk factors are

  • Advancing age
  • Low calcium intake
  • Female
  • Caucasian or Asian
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Family history
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Small, thin bones
  • Menopause
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle

How is osteoporosis detected?

It is now possible to detect osteoporosis before a fracture and to build up bone mass even after it has been lost. Detection can be simple, quick and painless. Bone densitometry, a noninvasive and accurate way of detecting osteoporosis, takes only 15-30 minutes.

Much like an X-ray, it uses a very low dose of radiation to measure bone density and bone mineral content.

What are the benefits of a bone density test?

The bone density test can be beneficial for any age or gender. It can provide early detection that other tests may miss. It can measure multiple sites of the body to determine the most appropriate treatment. It can estimate the risk for fracture.

Preparing for a bone density test

Do not take any solid pill containing calcium for 24 hours prior to the exam.

Do not have any procedures requiring IV contrast, barium or nuclear medicine studies for 3 weeks prior to the test.

What will I experience during a bone density test?

Prior to the exam you will be asked to remove any metal objects such as belts, jewelry, etc. If you are a woman, you will be asked to remove your bra. During the exam you will be asked to lie still while the body is being scanned.

Who will interpret the bone density results?

The bone density report will be sent to the Menopause and Osteoporosis Center. Doctors, trained to interpret this test, will forward the results to your doctor. Contact your doctor’s office for your results.

Can osteoporosis be treated?

Yes. Several medications are available that can either help to maintain or increase bone mass. Lifestyle changes and medical treatment are part of a total program to prevent future fractures. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment for you.