What is an Osteoporosis Test?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2019
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An osteoporosis test is a test which uses x-ray technology to determine the density of bones. This information is used to work out whether a given patient has osteoporosis, or is at risk of developing the disease. An osteoporosis test is also known as a bone density scan or test.

Osteoporosis is a disease which causes a progressive reduction in bone mineral density, causing bones to become brittle. This measurement quantifies the amount of minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, which are present in bones. In osteoporosis, the concentration of minerals is lower than normal, leading to brittle bones which are weaker and more likely to fracture. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, and the risk for women increases after menopause.

In the past, the disease has been difficult to detect, as it has no specific symptoms. With the advent of an osteoporosis test to measure bone density, the condition has become easier to detect and diagnose. Osteoporosis screening involves the use of a technique called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA.


In the DXA osteoporosis test, the patient lies on an x-ray scanner as for a normal x-ray. In this case, there are two x-ray beams, rather than one as for a traditional x-ray. The two DXA test beams are of differing energy levels, which allows for a more accurate measurement of bone density. The x-ray equipment measures how much x-ray energy is absorbed by the bones being examined, and this information is then used to quantify the amounts of minerals present in the bones.

The end result of an osteoporosis test is determined by comparing the patient’s bone mineral density to that of a baseline measurement. This measurement is called peak bone mass, and is equivalent to the average bone mineral density of a young adult. If the bone mineral density of the patient is below a certain level as compared to the baseline, the patient is diagnosed with osteoporosis.

When bone mineral density is at an intermediate level between baseline and a diagnosis of osteoporosis the patient is said to have low bone mass, or osteopenia. People with this condition have a higher osteoporosis risk, but an individual with osteopenia does not always develop osteoporosis.

Women who are post-menopausal, and particularly those over 60 or 65, should consider having regular bone density scans to determine their risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis. This is a preventative measure to ensure that people who are diagnosed with osteoporosis take measures to prevent falls which might cause fractures. People who are diagnosed with osteoporosis may be prescribed exercise, dietary changes, mineral supplements, or other medications, to reduce their risk factors.



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