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Guide to Bone Density Tests

By U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 5 years ago 3225 Views

The Basics 

A bone density test measures how strong your bones are. The test will tell you if you are at risk for osteoporosis (“os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis”).

  • If you are a woman age 65 or older, schedule a bone density test.
  • If you are a woman age 50 to 64, ask your doctor if you need a bone density test.

If you are at risk for osteoporosis (weak bones), your doctor or nurse may recommend getting a bone density test every 2 years.

Men can get osteoporosis, too. If you are a man over age 65 and concerned about your bone strength, talk with your doctor or nurse.

What happens during a bone density test?
A bone density test is like an x-ray or scan of your body. A bone density test doesn’t hurt. It only takes about 15 minutes.

What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It means your bones are weak and more likely to break. People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the hip, spine, and wrist.

Anyone can get osteoporosis, but it’s most common in older women. The older you are, the greater your risk for osteoporosis.

There are no signs or symptoms of osteoporosis. You might not know you have the disease until you break a bone. That’s why it’s so important to get a bone density test to measure your bone strength.

Learn more about osteoporosis and bone health:

What if I have osteoporosis?
If you have osteoporosis, you can still help slow down bone loss. Finding and treating it early can keep you healthier and more active, and can lower your chances of breaking a bone.

Depending on the results of your bone density test, you may need to:

  • Add more calcium and vitamin D to your diet
  • Exercise more to strengthen your bones
  • Take medicine to stop bone loss

Your doctor can tell you what steps are right for you. It doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s not too late to stop bone loss!


Take Action!

Take these steps to protect your bone health.

Schedule a bone density test. 
Ask your doctor if you are at risk for osteoporosis. Find out when to start getting bone density tests.

Print these questions for your doctor about preventing osteoporosis. Take them to your next checkup.

What about cost?
Screening for osteoporosis is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

For information about services for women that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Get enough calcium.
Calcium helps keep your bones strong. Use this calcium shopping list to help you find foods high in calcium, like:

  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Almonds
  • Broccoli and greens
  • Tofu with added calcium
  • Orange juice with added calcium
  • Calcium pills

Get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps your body use calcium. Both vitamin D and calcium are needed for strong bones.

Your body makes vitamin D when you are out in the sun. You can also get vitamin D from:

  • Salmon or tuna
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk with added vitamin D
  • Some breakfast cereals, juices, and yogurt with added vitamin D
  • Vitamin D pills

Find out how much vitamin D you need each day.

Stay away from cigarettes and alcohol.
Cigarettes and alcohol can weaken your bones.

Lower your risk of falling.
Falls can be especially serious for people with weak bones. You can make small changes to help prevent falls, like doing exercises that improve your balance. For example, try walking backwards or standing from a sitting position.

Get active.
Physical activity can help slow down bone loss. Weight-bearing activities (like running and jumping jacks) can help keep your bones strong.

  • Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity. If you are new to exercise, start with 10 minutes of activity at a time.
  • Do strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. These include lifting weights or using resistance bands (long rubber strips that stretch).
  • Find an exercise buddy. You will be more likely to stick with it if you exercise with a friend.

If you have a health condition, be as active as you can be. Your doctor can help you choose the best activities for your abilities.

Use these tips to help you stay active as you get older.

Find an activity that works for you.
Check with your local community or senior center to find fun, low-cost or free exercise options. Try something new, like:

  • Aerobics
  • Tai chi (“ty chee”) – A Chinese mind-body exercise that involves moving slowly and gently
  • Yoga
  • Weight training
  • Walking with friends

Find healthy activities that you enjoy [PDF – 881 KB].

Posted in: Bone Health