Doctors use bone density testing to:

  • Identify decreases in bone density before you break a bone
  • Determine your risk of broken bones (fractures)
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis
  • Monitor osteoporosis treatment

The higher your bone mineral content, the denser your bones are. And the denser your bones, the stronger they generally are and the less likely they are to break.

Bone density tests differ from bone scans. Bone scans require an injection beforehand and are usually used to detect fractures, cancer, infections and other abnormalities in the bone.

Although osteoporosis is more common in older women, men also can develop the condition. Regardless of your sex or age, your doctor may recommend a bone density test if you've:

  • Lost height. People who have lost at least 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) in height may have compression fractures in their spines, for which osteoporosis is one of the main causes.
  • Fractured a bone. Fragility fractures occur when a bone becomes so fragile that it breaks much more easily than expected. Fragility fractures can sometimes be caused by a strong cough or sneeze.
  • Taken certain drugs. Long-term use of steroid medications, such as prednisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process — which can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Received a transplant. People who have received an organ or bone marrow transplant are at higher risk of osteoporosis, partly because anti-rejection drugs also interfere with the bone-rebuilding process.
  • Had a drop in hormone levels. In addition to the natural drop in hormones that occurs after menopause, women's estrogen may also drop during certain cancer treatments. Some treatments for prostate cancer reduce testosterone levels in men. Lowered sex hormone levels weaken bone.
Aug. 21, 2014