Why it's doneBy Mayo Clinic staff
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Doctors use bone density testing to:
- Identify decreases in bone density before you break a bone
- Determine your risk of broken bones (fractures)
- Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis if you've experienced broken bones
- Monitor osteoporosis treatment
The higher your bone mineral content, the denser your bones are. And the denser your bones, the stronger they generally are and the less likely they are to break.
Bone density tests are not the same as bone scans. Bone scans require an injection beforehand and are usually used to detect fractures, cancer, infections and other abnormalities in the bone.
Although osteoporosis is more common in older women, men also can develop the condition. Regardless of your sex or age, your doctor may recommend a bone density test if you've:
- Lost height. People who have lost at least 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) in height may have experienced compression fractures in their spines. Osteoporosis is one of the main causes of compression fractures.
- Fractured a bone. Fragility fractures occur when a bone becomes so fragile that it breaks much more easily than expected. Fragility fractures can sometimes be caused by a strong cough or sneeze.
- Taken certain drugs. Long-term use of steroid medications, such as prednisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process — which can lead to osteoporosis.
- Received a transplant. People who have received an organ or bone marrow transplant are at higher risk of osteoporosis, partly because anti-rejection drugs also interfere with the bone-rebuilding process.
- Experienced a drop in hormone levels. In addition to the natural drop in hormones that occurs after menopause, women may also experience a drop in estrogen during certain cancer treatments. Some treatments for prostate cancer reduce testosterone levels in men. Lowered hormone levels weaken bone.
- Osteoporosis: The diagnosis. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/diagnosis.asp. Accessed Aug. 5, 2011.
- Bone density scan. Radiological Society of North America. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=dexa. Accessed Aug. 5, 2011.
- Lewiecki EM. Overview of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Aug. 5, 2011.
- Diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. http://www.icsi.org/guidelines_and_more/gl_os_prot/womens_health/osteoporosis/osteoporosis__diagnosis_and_treatment_of_.html. Accessed Aug. 11, 2011.
- Kleerekoper M. Screening for osteoporosis. http://uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Aug. 11, 2011.
- Bone mass measurement: What the numbers mean. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/bone_mass_measure.asp. Accessed Aug. 11, 2011.