Bone Density Scan

Bone Density Scan: Overview

These tests measure the mineral density in bones and can provide a diagnosis of osteoporosis before the bones become so weak that they break.  With early detection a treatment plan can be initiated to minimize further bone loss and to strengthen bone tissue.

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There are two types of bone mineral density (BMD) scans:

  • Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) Scan. Currently the most accurate test available.
  • Peripheral Bone Density Testing. Also known as bone sonometer.  The devices are commonly used in large-scale osteoporosis screenings at local drugstores or similar venues.  However, they are not as accurate as a DEXA scan because bone density can vary throughout the body and peripheral bone density tests only measure density in a specific area.  They can miss signs of osteoporosis in those skeletal sites that are particularly prone to bone loss such as the hips, spine, and wrist.  In fact, the spine is often the first site to suffer a loss in bone density.

Function; Why it is Recommended

DEXA uses only one-tenth the radiation of standard X-ray.  While the patient rests on a padded table, an X-ray scanning machine moves over the body and captures images of the hip, spine, or entire body.  The scan takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Peripheral Bone Density Tests measure BMD in less than a minute by passing sound waves through a wrist, finger, or heel.  Peripheral bone density tests are performed with portable devices that make measuring BMD convenient and inexpensive.

In general, this testing is recommended for women 65 and older along with younger postmenopausal women who have further risk factors for osteoporosis, including:

  • A history of bone fractures as an adult or having a close relative with a history of bone fractures
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
  • Weight loss or low body weight
  • Early menopause or late onset of menstrual periods
  • Physical inactivity
  • Taking a medication that is known to cause bone loss
  • Low estrogen levels
  • Hyperthyroidism


Neither test requires any special preparation.  Unlike a bone scan, bone density testing does not involve the administration of radioactive contrast material into the bloodstream.

Expected Outcome; Side-Effects

The results of a DEXA scan are compared to the "normal" range for people of the same age, sex and race, and to the maximum bone density possible (found in young adults).

Both tests are painless, noninvasive, and have no side-effects.

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Bone Density Scan:

Bone Density Scan can help with the following:


Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

A bone density scan can indicate what your current bone mineral density is.  Repeated scans (a year or two apart) can tell if you are gaining, losing or just maintaining bone.

A new urine test utilizes the two most specific markers of bone resorption – the collagen crosslinks pyridinium/pyridinoline (PYD) and deoxypyridinium/deoxypyridinoline (DPYD or DPD) – to identify elevated levels of bone loss before excessive damage occurs.  This profile enables regular testing of women for resorption rates, allowing treatment intervention at its most effective – i.e. before bone loss has occurred.  It also allows easy and rapid monitoring of treatment effectiveness.  As valuable as bone scan results can be in the definitive diagnosis of osteoporosis, the evaluation cannot be performed often enough for patients who are losing bone at a rapid rate.

In premenopausal women, estrogen produced in the body maintains bone density.  Following the onset of menopause, bone loss increases each year and can result in a total loss of 25-30% of bone density in the first five to ten years after menopause.  Your doctor can help you decide when and if you need a bone density test.

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