Bone Density Tests

The test used to diagnose osteoporosis is called a bone density test. This test is a measure of how strong -- or dense -- your bones are and can help your doctor predict your risk for having a fracture. Bone density tests are painless, safe, and require no preparation on your part.

Bone density tests compare your bone density to the bones of an average healthy young adult. The test result, known as a T-score, tells you how strong your bones are, whether you have osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone mass that is not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis), and your risk for having a fracture.

Some bone density tests measure the strength of the hip, spine, and/or wrist, which are the bones that break most often in people with osteoporosis. Other tests measure bone in the heel or hand. Although no bone density test is 100 percent accurate, it is the single most important diagnostic test to predict whether a person will have a fracture in the future.

The most widely recognized bone density test is a DXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan of the hip and spine. This test shows if you have normal bone density, low bone mass, or osteoporosis. It is also used to monitor bone density changes as a person ages or in response to treatment.

Who Should Be Tested?

The United States Preventive Service Task Force recommends that women aged 65 and older be screened (tested) for osteoporosis, as well as women aged 60 and older who are at increased risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture. However, the decision of whether or not to have a bone density test is best made between a patient and his or her physician.

Medicare will usually cover the cost of a bone density test, and a follow up test every 2 years, for female beneficiaries. It also will cover screening and follow up of any male Medicare recipients who have significant risk factors for osteoporosis.