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Osteoporosis: Screening for Bone Loss

The strength of bones is measured by their density (thickness). High bone density means bones are less likely to fracture. If you are at risk for bone loss, your healthcare provider may refer you for bone density testing.

Bone Density Testing

Woman putting hand and wrist in quantitative ultrasound (QUS) machine. Healthcare provider is operating machine.

Bone density testing is safe, quick, easy, and painless. Testing can detect osteoporosis before a fracture happens. It can also predict the risk of future fractures. And testing can measure the response to treatment. There are two types of tests that you may have:

  • Peripheral tests are used for screening. They measure density in the finger, wrist, knee, shin, or heel. A common peripheral test is the quantitative ultrasound (QUS).

  • Central tests are used for diagnosis. They measure density in the hip or spine. The main central test is the dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). The DXA is the standard bone density test.

Who Should Be Tested?

  • All postmenopausal women under age 65, with one or more risk factors in addition to menopause.

  • All women age 65 and older.

  • Postmenopausal women with fractures.

  • Women who are thinking about treatment for osteoporosis.

  • Women who have been on hormone therapy for a long time.

  • Men or women with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications (such as glucocorticoids or prednisone) for a long period.

Common Testing Sites

Any bone can fracture, but with osteoporosis some bones fracture more easily. These include bones in the spine, wrist, shoulder, and hip. That’s why bone density testing may be done at one or more of these sites.

Understanding Your Results

The results of your test may seem confusing at first. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider to explain. Your bone mineral density (BMD) describes the thickness of the bone that was scanned. Your healthcare provider will compare your BMD with the BMD of young, healthy bone. The result is called a T-score. Bones remodel at different rates. So, a healthy T-score in the wrist doesn’t mean the spine is also healthy. That’s why more than one site may be scanned.

 

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