Bone Density Test

A bone density examination is performed for ascertaining the onslaught of osteoporosis – an ailment with which your bones become fragile and prone to breaking.

Earlier, it was possible to know the presence of osteoporosis only if your bone gets broken.  But by that period, your bones may further go weak. The density of bone examination increases the correctness of knowing the vulnerability of your bones to break.

The examination is performed with the help of X-Ray machines, wherein the presence of calcium and other minerals of the bone are examined in a part of the bone. Most commonly the bones of forearms, spine or hip are examined.

Why is the bone density test performed?

The examination is performed:

  • For identifying the decline in bone density much before breaking a bone.
  • For ascertaining the risk of fractures (bone breaking)
  • Validating the presence of osteoporosis
  • Observing the treatment of osteoporosis

In case of higher mineral content in your bones, their density is considered high.  And this high density signifies more strength of your bones that have lesser chances of breaking.

Examination of the density of bones is different from scanning of bones. Performing the scanning of bones needs to be given an injection in advance and are generally performed for perceiving bone abnormalities, infections, cancer and fractures.

Though osteoporosis are usually found in elderly females, males may also develop it. Irrespective of your age or gender, you may be advised by your health expert to undergo the examination for bone density in case you have:

  • Shortening height

Those whose height is shortened by 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) because of compression on spine, osteoporosis may be its prime cause.

  • Bone fracture

Fragile bones are prone to causing fractures as there is a lesser bone density than needed. At times, the fractures in bones happen by vigorous sneezing or coughing.

  • Use of steroidal medicines

Steroid medicines, like prednisone, etc. may obstruct the process of bone rebuilding and cause osteoporosis.

  • Transplant

Those undergone bone marrow or an organ transplant run a greater risk of afflicted with osteoporosis.  This happens mainly as the anti-rejection medications obstructing their process of rebuilding bones.

  • Declining levels of hormone

Apart from the usual hormonal after attaining menopause, females’ estrogen levels may also decline after undergoing cancerous cures.  With certain cures for the prostate cancer, men also undergo decline in the levels of testosterone. The reduced levels of hormones deteriorate the bone density.

Risks of the Bone Density Test

There are some restrictions of the bone density examinations, like:

  • Procedural differences

There are procedural dissimilarities. While central instruments for measuring the density of bones of spine and hip are correct, but they considerably cost high than the secondary instruments that measure density of bones of the heel, fingers and forearms.

  • Insurance

Most of the medi-claim insurance policies do not cover the expenses incurred on bone density examination.   It is advised to know it before if this test is covered or not.

  • The cause remains unidentified

The bone density examination is performed for confirming the presence of declined bone density.  However, the cause of low density remains undisclosed. For knowing the answer to why, you require certain other evaluation examinations.

How to prepare for the Bone Density test?

The bone density examinations are more or less painless, speedy and are performed easily. Practically, no grounding is required. Simpler procedures of bone density exams can easily be performed at the pharmaceutical or medicinal stores.

In case you are going in for the test at a hospital or a Clinic, ensure informing your healthcare provider in advance if you have undergone a CT scan wherein contrast substances were injected for the test or a barium test. The contrast substance may play as an obstruction in the bone density examination and may not provide an accurate picture.

What to expect from the exam?

Bone density examinations generally are performed on the bones that are prone to breaking owing to onslaught of osteoporosis, like:

  • Lumbar vertebrae (Lower spinal bones)
  • Femur (The constricted neck of the bone in thigh after the hip joint
  • Forearm bones

In case you are getting your bone density exam at a Clinic or a hospital, it may most likely be performed using a central device.  You may be asked to lie down on a padded platform dais. A mechanical limb is moved over the body. As compared to the X-ray of chest, the smaller radiation amount is emitted while performing this procedure. The procedure normally takes nearly 15-30 minutes only.

The smaller and moveable machines are used for measuring the bone density of the organs located at the extreme end of your body, like wrists, heels and fingers. The devices used for carrying out these exams are known as peripheral instruments and are usually available in pharmacies. The bone density tests performed with peripheral instruments are not very expensive as compared to the tests performed with central instruments.

As the bone density differs from one place to another in your body, measuring the density of heel hones normally is not correct is unable to predict the risk to a spinal or hip fracture.  For this reason, even if the exam performed with the peripheral instrument is found to be in the affirmative, your doctor may suggest you to get a follow-up scrutiny of your hip or spin for confirming the analysis.


The results of bone density test are interpreted using:

  • T-score, and
  • Z-score


  • T-score

The T-score is the evaluation of bone density in comparison to usual expectations from a young person of your gender, age and the physical wellbeing.  The T-score is counted in units, known as standard deviation; the density of your bones is below or above an average person.

T-Score Significance (interpretation)
-1 or higher The bone density is found to be okay and usual.
In between 1 & -2.5 In this range, it is a signal for the onslaught of osteopania, which may graduate to osteoporosis.
-2.5 or lower It signifies that the bones are prone to breaking
  • Z-Score

The Z-score of your bone density is the standard deviation against the usual expectation of bone density of the somebody of your race, weight and age. In case your bone density score is found to be of -2 of Z-score or even less, it means something else other than your age is responsible for the loss of bone density. In case the issue is identified by your doctor, the fundamental problem is treated so that the loss of bone density is either slowed down or halted.

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