Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
In order to check your bone health, your healthcare provider will ask you questions about the risk factors for osteoporosis. You will also have a test called a DEXA or DXA scan (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scan). This safe and painless test uses low level x-rays to determine how much calcium you have in your bones. This is called your bone mineral density or bone mass density (BMD). It will probably be measured at your hip and spine. Sometimes, bone density is tested at the wrist or heel using a related test called SXA (single energy x-ray absorptiometry).
To get your BMD, your healthcare professional compares your DXA results to the DXA score of a young adult with the same body type or a healthy adult of your own age. The result of the test is called a “T score.” The T score is used to identify whether a person has healthy bones, moderate bone loss (osteopenia), osteoporosis, or severe osteoporosis. The lower your T score, the higher your risk of a fracture. By using your T score and risk factors, your healthcare provider will be able to predict the likelihood of a future fracture, and recommend the right treatment based on this risk.
Your provider may also order blood and urine tests if to figure out if you may have a medical condition that is causing bone loss.
Who should be tested for bone loss?
The following people should have a DXA scan:
- women over age 65
- women who have had early menopause
- postmenopausal women with at least one of the risk factors
- postmenopausal women who have recently stopped taking hormone supplements
- men over 70
- men between 50 and 70 years of age with at least one risk factor
- men or women over age 50 who have broken a bone in the past, especially if the trauma that brought on the fracture was minor
- men or women who take or are thinking of starting medications that raise the risk of osteoporosis
Updated: November 2017
Posted: March 2012