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Everything you need to know about bone density testing

Study guide




Osteoporosis has few symptoms and can only be diagnosed by a bone density test. Without this test, you may not know you have the disease until a bone breaks. This complication causes the bones to become brittle and more likely to break. To perform the test, X-rays are used to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals in a specific part of the bone. Join us to learn how to do it, how to perform it, and how to interpret a bone density test.

What is a bone density test?

An adult human has 206 bones in his body. These bones are essential for movement, protection of vital organs and storage of minerals. They also need density to perform their tasks. About 90% of each person’s bone volume is made of extracellular material, which is the hard part. This extracellular substance has two parts, organic and inorganic. 10% of a person’s bone is made up of bone cells. These bone cells produce extracellular material and are responsible for controlling the passage of minerals through the bone.

Bones hold a large amount of minerals in the body. About 99% of the body’s calcium reserves, 85% of the body’s phosphorus reserves, and 60 to 40% of the body’s magnesium and sodium reserves are stored in the bones. Illness, medication, and aging may reduce bone density. When bone density decreases, the risk of fractures and osteoporosis increases. Bone density tests can be used to diagnose these conditions.

Why is a bone density test done?

Doctors prescribe a bone density test for:

  • Detection of decreased bone density before fracture;
  • Determining the probability of bone fracture;
  • Confirmation of the diagnosis of osteoporosis;
  • Follow up on osteoporosis treatment.

The more minerals your bones have, the denser they are. The higher your bone density, the stronger and less likely it is to break. A bone density test is different from a bone scan. Materials are injected before a bone scan, and it is commonly used to diagnose fractures, cancer, infection, and other bone disorders and diseases.

When is a bone density test performed?

Although osteoporosis is more common in older women, men are also affected. Regardless of your age or gender, your doctor may prescribe a bone density test for the following reasons:

1. Height reduction

People who are at least 4 inches short may have cracks in their spine due to compression. One of the main causes of this phenomenon is osteoporosis.

2. Break a bone

Fracture due to fragility occurs when the bone becomes so fragile that it breaks more easily than expected. This type of fracture may also occur due to a strong cough or sneezing.

3. Taking some medications

Long-term use of steroid drugs, such as prednisone, interferes with bone regeneration. This causes osteoporosis.

4. Severe decrease in hormones

In addition to the normal decrease in hormones after menopause, women’s estrogen may also drop after treatment for some cancers. Also, some treatments for prostate cancer reduce testosterone levels in men. Decreased levels of these sex hormones weaken the bones.

Who should have a bone density test?

You should consult your doctor to perform this test. If you have these conditions, your doctor may order this test for you:

  • Women over 65;
  • People who have hunched over;
  • Menopausal women over 50;
  • People who have had organ transplants;
  • People who suffer from low back pain for no reason;
  • People who have experienced severe hormone depletion;
  • Men over the age of 50 who are at risk for osteoporosis;
  • People who have lost 4 cm in height since adulthood;
  • Women who have irregular periods without pregnancy or menopause;
  • People with bone fractures over the age of 50;
  • Menopausal women at high risk for bone fractures;
  • Women under the age of 65 who have reached menopause and are prone to osteoporosis for other reasons.

Preparing for the test

Bone density testing is easy, fast and painless. In fact, it does not require special preparation. Tell your doctor in advance if you have recently had a barium test or have had a contrast-enhanced core scan for a CT scan or a medical test.

  • Food and medicine

Do not take calcium supplements 24 hours before the test.

  • Clothing and personal items

Wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid clothing that has a zipper, belt or button. Leave your jewelry at home and take all metal objects, such as keys and coins, out of your pocket.

What should you expect in a bone density test?

Perform bone density test

Osteoporosis testing is done on bones that are more likely to break due to osteoporosis, for example:

  • Lower bones of the spine (in the lumbar region);
  • Narrow neck of femur, near pelvic joint;
  • The bones of the forearm.

If you do this test in a hospital, it will probably be done with a device that you lie on on a soft surface and a mechanical arm passes over your body. You are exposed to a very small amount of radiation and the test takes about 10 to 30 minutes.

Because bone density may vary from one part of your body to another, testing with small, portable devices is not entirely accurate. These devices usually test the bones of the end of the body (such as the finger, wrist or heel). If you have a test on one of these areas and the test is positive, your doctor may recommend that you repeat the test on your spine or thigh.

Interpretation of bone density test

After performing this test, you will receive two results:

1. T score

This result compares your bone density to a healthy bone of a young person of the same sex. This score determines whether your bone density is normal, below normal, or within the range of osteoporosis. Its interpretation is as follows:

  • 1- and above: Your bone density is normal;
  • 1- to 2.5-: Your bone density is low and may lead to osteoporosis;
  • 2.5 or lessYou have osteoporosis.

2. Z score

This score allows you to compare your bone volume with people of your age, gender and size. If the Z score is below -0.0, it means that you have less bone volume than a person like you, and it may be due to a factor other than aging.

Limitations of this test

1. Differences in test methods

Devices that measure bone density in the spine or femur are more accurate. However, they are more expensive than devices that measure finger or heel bone density.

2. Previous spinal problems

Bone density test results may not be accurate in people with structural abnormalities in their spine. These disorders include osteoarthritis, previous spinal surgeries, and scoliosis.

3. Radiation exposure

This test uses X-rays. Although the amount of radiation used is very low, pregnant women should avoid it.

4. Little information about the cause

A bone density test can confirm that your bones are low in density; But it does not give information about the reason. You will need to be examined more thoroughly to find out why.

5. Limited insurance coverage

Some health insurances do not cover the cost of a bone density test. You should ask your insurance company how much to pay before testing.

What should I do if I have osteoporosis?

It is not always possible to treat or improve bone mineral deficiency; But in many cases, it can be improved by improving your lifestyle. The changes you can make in your life are:

  • Have a diet rich in calcium;
  • If you smoke, quit smoking;
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages;
  • Take a vitamin D supplement:
  • Exercise regularly.

There are also many medications that can treat diseases caused by a lack of bone density, such as osteoporosis.

Concluding remarks

Having good bone density affects your overall health. Decreased bone density may be a sign of osteoporosis, which increases your risk of fractures. It is important that if you have osteoporosis, get a bone density test to prevent the disease and its consequences. By doing this, you can be treated before your illness gets worse. Continuation of this test becomes more important with age; So make sure your bones are healthy on a regular basis.

Warning! This article is for educational purposes only and you should consult your doctor or specialist to use it. more information

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Everything you need to know about bone density testing

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