Bone Density Scan

  • Medical Author:
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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A bone density scan is recommended for menopausal women over 65 and those who have risk factors of osteoporosis.

Who Should Get a Bone Density Scan?

Bone density testing is used to assess the strength of the bones and the probability of fracture in persons at risk for osteoporosis. The test, referred to as bone densitometry or bone mineral density scan (BMD), is a simple, noninvasive procedure that takes just minutes.

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Bone density scan facts

  • About 40% of postmenopausal women in the U.S. have osteopenia (low bone density). An additional 7% have osteoporosis (substantially low bone density).
  • In 1995, osteoporosis-related fractures were associated with over 400,000 hospitalizations, stressing the importance of early detection and appropriate prescription therapy.
  • Bone mineral density (BMD) estimates the true mass of bone.
  • BMD analysis is recommended for women between ages 50 and 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis and for all women over the age of 65. In addition, men and women taking certain medications or having certain diseases should discuss testing with their doctor.
  • By measuring BMD, it is possible to predict fracture risk in the same manner that measuring blood pressure can help predict the risk of stroke.
  • DXA is quick, painless, and the preferred method to measure BMD.
  • Osteoporosis has many available prescription and nonprescription treatment options once the diagnosis is made.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that is characterized by bones that are less dense than, and thus not as strong as, normal bone. Osteoporosis increases the risk of breaking a bone (fracture) with even minor trauma, such as a fall from standing height, or even from a cough or sneeze. Unfortunately, people often do not realize they have osteoporosis until either they have a fracture or have a screening test ordered by their doctor to check for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis and low bone mass affect an estimated 44 million Americans. Of those, 10 million have osteoporosis, and the remaining 34 million have a lower than normal bone mass (medically termed osteopenia) and are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Other risk factors include older age, family history of osteoporosis, small and thin stature, inactive lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, and use of certain medications, including steroids.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/22/2016

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