Candidates for Bone Density Testing
Because osteoporosis can occur with few symptoms, testing is important. Bone density testing is recommended for:
- All women over age 65
- Postmenopausal women under age 65 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
- All men over age 70
- Men ages 50 - 70 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
- Any man or woman over age 50 who has suffered a fracture
Risk factors that may indicate a need for bone mineral density testing include:
- Long-term use of medications associated with low bone mass or bone loss such as corticosteroids, some anti-seizure medications, Depo-Provera, thyroid hormone, or aromatase inhibitors. Long-term use of corticosteroids (more than 5 mg/day for more than 3 months) is a specific risk factor.
- History of treatment for prostate cancer or breast cancer
- History of medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid imbalances, estrogen or testosterone deficiencies, early menopause, anorexia nervosa, rheumatoid arthritis
- Significant loss of height
- Significant recent weight loss or low body mass index (BMI less than 21)
- History of hip fracture in parent
- Excessive alcohol use
Tests Used for Measuring Bone Density
Central DXA. The standard technique for determining bone density is a form of bone densitometry called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). DXA is simple and painless and takes 2 - 4 minutes. The machine measures bone density by detecting the extent to which bones absorb photons that are generated by very low-level x-rays. (Photons are atomic particles with no charge.) Measurements of bone mineral density are generally given as the average concentrations of calcium in areas that are scanned.
Review Date: 10/21/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.