A bone density test is a quick, painless way to check the strength of your bones. A healthcare provider will use one to screen you for osteoporosis and other conditions that weaken your bones. Women and people assigned female at birth need regular bone density tests starting at age 65. Men and people assigned male at birth need them starting at age 70.
A bone density test is an imaging test that measures the strength of your bones. It uses X-rays to measure how much calcium and other minerals are in your bones.
Healthcare providers sometimes refer to bone density tests as DXA scans or bone density scans. These are different names that refer to the same test. “DXA” is an acronym for “dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.”
A healthcare provider might use a bone density to check your bones in a few situations, including to:
Your provider might use a bone density test to see how your bones have changed over time, including:
Anyone might need a bone density test if a healthcare provider wants to check your bones’ strength. Some people have a naturally higher risk of developing osteoporosis and other conditions that affect bone density, including:
Other risk factors for bone density issues include:
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A bone density test uses low levels of X-rays to measure the density and mineral content of your bones. It’s similar to a typical X-ray.
It’s an outpatient procedure, which means you won’t have to stay in the hospital. And there aren’t any needles or injections in this test.
You might be able to wear your regular clothes during the test, or you may have to change into a hospital gown.
Here’s how a bone density scan works:
You probably won’t have to change your usual routine before having a bone density test.
A bone density test usually lasts around 30 minutes. Your test might be slightly shorter or longer depending on how many of your bones need scanned.
A bone density scanner uses two types of low-level radiation to translate your bone density into pictures and graphs on a computer. Your bones will show up as white. Fat, muscles and other soft tissue will look like shadows in the background of the test images.
There are very few risks to having a bone density test. You won’t feel any pain or have any side effects from a bone density test.
Pregnant people shouldn’t have a bone density test. Medical experts recommend avoiding all radiation exposure during pregnancy to protect the developing fetus. Tell your provider if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant.
The results of a bone density will show how strong your bones are.
Healthcare providers use a system called a “T score” to measure your bone density. Your T score compares your bone density to a healthy, average 30-year-old. The results are measured as a negative number. The closer to zero your T score is, the stronger your bones are:
Your provider will discuss the results with you and explain what they mean. If you have a lower-than-usual bone density, your provider will suggest treatments to help keep your bones strong, including:
Talk to a healthcare provider about a bone density test if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
Women and people AFAB should have regular bone density screenings starting at 65. Men and people AMAB at birth should have regular tests starting at age 70.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A bone density test is a quick, painless way to check your bone health. Your healthcare provider might suggest one to screen for osteoporosis or to make sure your bones are as strong as they should be.
Women and people assigned female at birth and anyone with a family history of osteoporosis should have regular bone density screenings. Ask your provider how often you need your bone density checked.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2023.
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