What is a Bone Density Test and Do You Need One?

bone density

A bone-density test (BDT), sometimes called a bone scan or bone densitometry, helps your doctor determine your risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. Osteoporosis occurs when the mineral content inside your bones decreases over time due to aging or hormonal imbalances. Dense bones are less likely to break than bones that have lost mineral density.

Getting a bone-density test can identify early signs of bone-mineral loss, so you and your doctor can come up with a plan to increase your bone strength and maintain density over the long term.

One of the most common bone density tests is central dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or a central DXA test, which is usually used to evaluate the density of your bones in your hips and spine.

Who should get a BDT?

Although women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, and a precursor to osteoporosis called osteopenia, men can lose bone density, too. You may be more likely to develop osteoporosis if someone in your family had it, or if you have small bones.

At Patrick County Family Practice, located in Stuart, Virginia, Dr. Richard C. Cole and his team recommend you get a BDT if you:

You also may be at increased risk for bone density loss if you’re on certain medications, such as steroids.

A simple test

The BDT itself is a simple, noninvasive test that doesn’t require your doctor to inject you with contrast dyes. You lie on a table while the technician places the X-ray plates over the area to be tested. Your doctor usually orders a BDT for areas that are most at risk for fracture, such as your hip, spine, neck, or forearm.

Very little radiation is emitted during a BDT; it’s less than that emitted for a chest X-ray. The entire test only takes about 10-30 minutes.

What a BDT reveals

The results of your BDT are compared to the results of a healthy young person to determine how much bone loss, if any, you’ve suffered. Your main results are given in the form of a T-score — which is the comparison between your bones and younger, dense, healthy bones.

The BDT results also include a Z-score — which tells your doctor how much your score deviates from what’s considered normal for your age, sex, weight, and ethnicity. If you vary by much from the average, Dr. Cole performs further tests to determine if an underlying medical condition is causing your bone loss.

A BDT gives you a plan

If your T-score indicates that your bones are dense and normal, Dr. Cole recommends you continue to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. High-impact and resistance training with weights can help keep your bones strong. He also advises that you have another BDT in two years to monitor your bone density and ensure that your bones continue to be healthy.

When your BDT shows that you have osteopenia, Dr. Cole may advise a more stringent exercise plan to prevent further bone loss and may make dietary recommendations that increase the amount of vitamin D, vitamin K, and calcium you consume. He may also recommend calcium supplements. Depending on your score, he may recommend another BDT in two years or sooner.

If you have osteoporosis, Dr. Cole advises lifestyle changes, including dietary and exercise recommendations, calcium supplements, and may also prescribe medications that prevent further bone loss. He will probably recommend a BDT every six months to one year to ensure that your treatment is working, or to make adjustments as needed.

Knowing how strong your bones are now helps you plan for your future. Contact us today to schedule a BDT by phone or through the online form.

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