Bone density scanning is a simple and painless test that measures bone density. The test uses a specialized X-ray machine that measures the amount of calcium and other minerals in a specific area of your bones. The test is called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA), and it is the gold standard for diagnosing osteoporosis.
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about bone density scans, including how they work, who should get them, and what the results mean.
How Does a Bone Density Scan Work?
During a bone density scan, you will lie on a padded table while a machine scans your bones. The machine uses two types of X-rays to measure the density of your bones. One X-ray has a low dose of radiation, and the other has a high dose. The machine then calculates your bone density based on how much of each X-ray is absorbed by your bones.
The scan usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the area being scanned. It is a painless procedure and does not require any preparation.
Who Should Get a Bone Density Scan?
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density scans for:
- Women aged 65 and older
- Men aged 70 and older
- Postmenopausal women and men aged 50 to 69 with risk factors for osteoporosis
- Anyone with a fracture after age 50
- Anyone with a medical condition or taking medication that can cause bone loss
If you are not in one of these groups but are concerned about your bone health, you should talk to your doctor about whether a bone density scan is right for you.
What Do the Results Mean?
The results of a bone density scan are reported as a T-score. A T-score compares your bone density to that of a healthy 30-year-old of the same sex. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the following categories based on T-scores:
- Normal: T-score of -1.0 or above
- Low bone mass (osteopenia): T-score between -1.0 and -2.5
- Osteoporosis: T-score of -2.5 or below
Your doctor will use your T-score, along with other factors, to assess your risk of fracture and recommend a treatment plan if necessary.
Q: How often should I get a bone density scan?
A: The frequency of bone density scans depends on your individual risk factors for osteoporosis. Your doctor will determine how often you should have a bone density scan.
Q: Does insurance cover bone density scans?
A: Most insurance plans cover bone density scans for individuals who meet the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s recommendations.
Q: Is a bone density scan safe?
A: Yes, a bone density scan is a safe and painless procedure. The amount of radiation used is very low, and the benefits of the test far outweigh the risks.
Q: Can I wear clothing during a bone density scan?
A: Yes, you can wear comfortable clothing during a bone density scan. However, you should avoid clothing with metal buttons or zippers, as they can interfere with the scan.
The following table shows the normal ranges for bone density based on T-scores:
|-1.0 and above||Normal|
|-1.0 to -2.5||Low bone mass|
|-2.5 and below||Osteoporosis|