What is a Bone Mineral Density test?
A Bone Mineral Density test, also referred to as bone densitometry, uses special X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone. The higher your mineral content, the denser your bones. BMD is an important diagnostic tool that not only measures the amount of calcium in certain bones, but also can be used to estimate the risk of a fracture. The test is easy, fast, painless, and non-invasive. Doctors use a bone density test to determine if you have, or at risk of, osteoporosis.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist. Millions of Americans are at risk of getting osteoporosis.
Why might I need a Bone Mineral Density Test?
Bone Mineral Density tests are particularly important for women, who are at higher risk of getting osteoporosis. The test should be considered when:
- An X-ray reveals low bone mass or possible osteoporosis
- Menopause occurs prior to age 45 and the patient is not taking estrogen
- A woman is age 65 or older
- A post-menopausal woman sustains a fracture
- There is a family history of osteoporosis
- Steroids have been (or are) taken regularly
- Hyperthyroidism, diabetes, liver/kidney disease, or rheumatoid arthritis is present
The older you get, the higher your risk of osteoporosis because your bones become weaker as you age. You are also at greater risk for osteoporosis if you’re white or of Southeast Asian descent. Other risk factors include low body weight, personal history of fractures, and using certain medications that can cause bone loss.
What to Expect
Preparation: Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or DEXA is the most common method used to measure bone density and requires no patient preparation.
Procedure: The patient simply lies on a padded table during the scan of a particular part of the body such as the lower spine and hip. The test period is short, usually only several minutes. A radiologist reads and compares the results to normal values and prepares a concise report for the referring physician.
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