What’s the purpose of the test?
Your doctor may order a bone mineral density test if they suspect that your bones are becoming weaker, you’re displaying symptoms of osteoporosis, or you’ve reached the age when preventive screening is necessary.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that the following people get preventive screenings for bone mineral density:
- all women over the age of 65
- women under the age of 65 who have a high risk of fractures
Women have an increased risk for osteoporosis if they smoke or consume three or more alcoholic beverages per day. They’re also at an increased risk if they have:
- chronic kidney disease
- early menopause
- an eating disorder resulting in low body weight
- a family history of osteoporosis
- a “fragility fracture” (a broken bone caused by regular activities)
- rheumatoid arthritis
- significant height loss (a sign of compression fractures in the spinal column)
- a sedentary lifestyle that includes minimal weight bearing activities
Risks of a bone mineral density test
Because a bone mineral density test uses X-rays, there’s a small risk associated with radiation exposure. However, the radiation levels of the test are very low. Experts agree that the risk posed by this radiation exposure is far lower than the risk of not detecting osteoporosis before you get a bone fracture.
Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or believe you could be pregnant. X-ray radiation could harm your fetus.
After a bone mineral density test
Your doctor will review your test results. The results, referred to as a T-score, are based on the bone mineral density of a healthy 30-year-old compared to your own value. A score of 0 is considered ideal.
The NIH offers the following guidelines for bone density scores:
- normal: between 1 and -1
- low bone mass: -1 to -2.5
- osteoporosis: -2.5 or lower
- severe osteoporosis: -2.5 or lower with bone fractures
Your doctor will discuss your results with you. Depending on your results and the reason for the test, your doctor may want to do follow-up testing. They will work with you to come up with a treatment plan to tackle any issues.