Patient Education

Bone Mineral Density Test

education-bmd-testA bone mineral density (BMD) test, is a test administered to evaluate an individual’s bone strength by measuring the density of calcium and other minerals in particular areas of bone. During normal aging, bones lose minerals and become thinner. If they become abnormally thin, however, the patient has a disease condition known as osteoporosis.

Patients with osteoporosis are in serious danger of fractures. A bone mineral density test can confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis, assess how well treatment for the disease is working, or predict risk of fracture.

Reasons for Bone Mineral Density Tests

While postmenopausal women are considered at greatest risk for osteoporosis, men aged 50 to 70 are at risk as well. There are many other risk factors for osteoporosis, any of which may be a good reason for a patient of any age or gender to undergo a bone density scan. Risk factors for osteoporosis fall into the following categories: family and medical history of fracture, disease conditions, hormone irregularities and lifestyle habits.

The Bone Mineral Density Procedure

The central DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorption scan) presently in use to test for bone density is accurate, noninvasive, painless and uses low-dose X-rays. During this test, the patient lies on a table while a scanner is passed over the lower spine and hip. The patient must remain still during the procedure which takes under an hour. Results are usually available within 2 to 3 days. A smaller version of this procedure is called a peripheral DEXA (p-DEXA) and uses a smaller machine to measure bone density in the hands or feet. These smaller machines are used in doctors’ offices, pharmacies or health fairs to provide a quick, but less thorough, evaluation of bone health.

Results of a Bone Mineral Density Test

The results of a bone density scan consist of two scores, one that compares the patient’s bone density to that of healthy young women and the other that compares it to individuals of the same age, race and gender as the patient. There are three basic designations given when the results of a bone mineral density test are analyzed. Either the bones have a normal, healthy density, are beginning to lose mass (osteopenia) or have already become weak and porous (osteoporosis).