What does bone density testing entail?

Harbour Women’s Health has been providing on-site bone density tests for years, and in that time, determining bone density has become an integral part of the care regimen for peri- and post-menopausal women. If you are beginning to detect signs of menopause, the following questions and answers that we’ve collected from patients and our staff may help determine if it is time for you to schedule a bone density test with us.

How does it work? Is it an x-ray?

While there are various ways of measuring bone density, we have a GE Lunar machine that employs dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) technology or an x-ray beam that splits into two. The x-rays pass through you, while you lie flat on a table, and are picked up by an arm extended over you called a receiver. The difference in the energy levels of the x-rays received is then used to compute bone mineralization, the most accurate approximation of bone density available.

How do I do it? Will it hurt? How long does it take? Will I be in a tube like this a CT scan?

There is no tube involved. The test is performed with you lying on a table so that the arm can extend over your whole body. Once you’re positioned on the table so that the machine can accurately measure locations in your spine and hips, the scan takes just a few seconds and is absolutely painless.

At what age should I have my first bone density test and how frequently after that?

Bone density is measured to try to estimate the risk of bone fracture and the potential need for treatment. There are no standardized guidelines as to who should be screened and how often but most of the national societies specializing in this area suggest that all women who would consider treatment for osteoporosis should have testing done. Because osteoporosis has no symptoms until a fracture occurs, testing is generally advised around the onset of menopause and at three to four year intervals thereafter. Testing is performed earlier if you are taking certain medications, have a family history of bone ailments or have been diagnosed with a bone condition that is being treated so that your response to treatment can be monitored.

If the results are abnormal, what will I have to do? Can bone density be improved?

There are several treatments available today, some of which slow the natural loss of bone that occurs with age, others that actively treat more advanced bone loss. Some treatments can increase bone density at any age and can substantially decrease the risk of bone fracture. As there are multiple factors to consider in this decision, such as personal risk factors, medications, family history and lifestyle, you should carefully explore your options with a care provider following an abnormal result.