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When should I get a bone density test?

Because osteoporosis can be symptom free, it is often revealed for the first time after a bone has already broken, which is why testing bone density can be very important.

All women over the age of 65 are urged to get bone density tests, due to the fact that osteoporosis occurs most often in women after menopause; men are generally screened after age 70. However, particularly if you have received frequent steroid treatments or have other risk factors, your doctor may recommend testing sooner.

Bone mass measurement (also known as a BMD or bone mineral density test) is easy and painless, most often using X ray or ultrasound imaging. Testing can be done on the whole body, or just a part, such as the spine, hips or wrist.

The tests are used to determine your risk for bone fracture, comparing your results against people in your age group and against levels of a young, healthy adult. They can also confirm an osteoporosis diagnosis and monitor bone density on an ongoing basis.

Screening tests, known as peripheral bone mineral density tests, can be an early indicator of bone loss but are not a replacement for more thorough forms of BMD and cannot be used to diagnose osteoporosis.

You should go for a bone mineral density test at least once starting at age 65. You might need to go earlier depending on your risk factors for osteoporosis. Bone density screenings identify problems early, enabling you to start treatment and prevent further bone loss. There are no obvious signs of osteoporosis until you fracture a bone. 

If you are age 65 and older, you should get a bone density test. Women age 60 to 64 with risk factors for osteoporosis and women over 45 who have broken any bones should also get tested. If you are age 40 to 60, you should discuss risk factors and testing with your doctor or nurse.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Aruna V. Josyula, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends bone density testing for women age 65 or older. Bone density testing can also be done regardless of age or gender if there are risk factors. A heathcare provider will determine if a bone density test is needed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.