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Get Your Bone Density Tested

By Staff | August 27, 2018 | Rally Health


Why it's important: Bone strength goes down as we age.

Who needs it: Women age 65 and older.

Good to know: Postmenopausal women younger than age 65 with a parental history of hip fracture, or who have their own history of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and low body weight may need to start screening earlier. 

What is bone density screening?

A scan from a special low-dose X-ray machine or ultrasound can measure how dense your bones are. Experts say that these are the best ways to tell whether someone has osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones) or has a greater risk for bone fractures.

Why is it important?

An estimated 24.5 percent of women age 65 and older have osteoporosis of the femur neck (the top of the leg near the hip) or lumbar spine. 

If you have osteoporosis, your doctor can recommend some ways to try to slow bone loss or even rebuild and strengthen bones — exercise, a healthy diet with a focus on calcium and vitamin D, or certain prescription medicines.

Who needs it?

Women under 65 generally don't need screening unless they have risk factors for osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor to see if you might need screening at a younger age if you have been a smoker or daily drinker, are very slender, or if your mother broke a bone because of osteoporosis.

What to expect

A bone density scan is generally quick and easy. If you're getting an X-ray that looks at your hip and lower back (also called a central DXA or DEXA scan), you'll lie on a padded table for a few minutes while a device uses low-energy X-rays to take a picture of your bones. This is the most accurate way to measure bone strength in your spine and hip. You'll keep your clothes on (except for metal belts, zippers, and other things that might interfere with the X-ray).

A peripheral  X-ray or ultrasound of your arm or heel is often a simple and less expensive way to check your bones. If this test suggests that you could have osteoporosis, your doctor may like you to get a DEXA scan to get a more accurate reading.

Good to know

Even if your scans show that you don't have osteoporosis, your doctor may want to screen you again sometime in the future just to make sure that you’re still holding steady. 

In the meantime, you can help keep your bones strong by not smoking, getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and exercising. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing, or tennis is especially good for strong bones. If you drink, stick to no more than one drink a day for women, two for men.

Selected references

National Institutes of Health. The Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means for You. Last accessed February 2019.

Mayo Clinic. Bone Density Test. Last updated September 2017.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Osteoporosis to Prevent Fractures: Screening. Last updated June 2018.

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Articles on Rally Health’s website are provided for informational purposes only, as a free resource for the public. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Rally Health does not accept solicitations or compensation from any parties mentioned in the articles, and the articles are not an endorsement of any providers, experts, websites, tools, or financial consultants, services, and organizations.