Bone density test

A bone density test mainly determines the presence of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become more fragile and break easier. During the procedure, radiographers use X-rays to measure how much calcium and other minerals are packed into a section of bone. And though X-rays are part of the process, you are exposed to very low levels of radiation, much less than from a chest X-ray.

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The most common bones tested are in the hip, spine and forearm. Bone density tests can be helpful to:

  • Identify decreases in bone density
  • Determine a person's risk of fractures
  • Confirm osteoporosis is present
  • Determine the effectiveness of an osteoporosis treatment

Bone density scans do not show the presence of arthritis.

How long does a bone density scan take?

Mayo Clinic Healthcare uses dual energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) to measure bone density. Normally, the test shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes. Depending on your needs, specialists may scan bones that have signs of weakness or are most likely to break due to osteoporosis, such as:

  • Bones in your lower spine
  • Femur, where it meets your hip
  • Forearm bones

Older women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. However, men also are susceptible. Regardless of your sex or age, your doctor may recommend a bone density test if you've:

  • Lost height
  • Fractured a bone
  • Taken certain drugs, such as long-term use of steroid medications
  • Had a drop in hormone levels

Mayo Clinic Healthcare will work with you to determine if a bone density scan is appropriate to your needs. If testing reveals low bone density, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition.

Learn more about bone density tests at MayoClinic.org