The Importance of Bone Density Testing
Reviewed by Robert Falk, MD
Bone density testing is an important medical test used to identify osteoporosis. This is the name for the condition when bones become weak, brittle and less dense often due to a lack of calcium. Bone density can be measured using a variety of procedures, most of which are can be done quickly and without causing any pain or discomfort. Such procedures include a dual x-ray absorptiometry, which is a special kind of x-ray machine. It produces highly accurate results making it one of the most popular methods of measuring bone density.
Osteoporosis occurs mostly in the elderly and is more common in women than in men. Other health problems can also lead to bone loss including chronic liver disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms of one of these conditions may lead to the requirement of a bone density test. Another reasons for testing include a vertebrae deformity or a previous fracture. Women who are post-menopause also sometimes wish to be tested to see if they are risk of developing osteoporosis or osteopaenia.
Before bone density testing, your doctor may with to talk to you about your medical history, risk factors associated with bone disease and whether there is nay chance you could be pregnant as pregnant women should not undergo this kind of testing. Before the procedure you will be asked to change into a hospital gown and to remove all jewellery. If you are having a dual x-ray absorptiometry, which is the most common method of done density testing then x-ray beams will be used to detect bone density and soft tissue density. Another method is single energy x-ray absorptiometry, where a single ray is used on areas such as the forearm or heel. The area that is being tested must be wrapped in tissue or immersed in water for best results. X-rays shouldn’t be used to detect early stages of osteoporosis can be effective as follow up testing to follow the rate of progression. The final procedure that can be used to test for bone density is an ultrasound, which provides images of the structural integrity of the bone.
After the procedure, results can be obtained very quickly and you are able to go home immediately. Results are normally discussed with the doctor in a follow up appointment. There are no side effects from these kinds of tests and even the level of radiation you may be exposed to is not a lot more than you are exposed to daily from the environment. If results of the test confirm osteoporosis, you should return for regular bone density testing in order to confirm the treatment you are you using is effectively preserving your bones. In order to prevent variables from different machines, try to have all your tests done in the same facility using the same machines.