Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Osteoporosis Diagnosis and Risk Factors

Osteoporosis Tests

After discussing your individual concerns about osteoporosis with your health care professional, a series of laboratory tests may be recommended. These tests will help identify or rule out conditions other than menopause that may be causing low bone density. These tests include:

  • complete blood cell count
  • serum chemistry studies

If medical history or physical findings suggest secondary causes (causes other than menopause and age) of bone loss, then additional laboratory tests may be given.

A bone mineral density test (BMD) is the only way to detect low bone mass. This screening test:

  • measures bone strength
  • predicts if your bones are at risk for fracture
  • may monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more
  • predicts your future risk for osteoporosis
  • is painless and noninvasive

Simple and painless measurements are usually taken of the bones in your hip, wrist and spine — the most common sites of fractures due to osteoporosis. Some other tests measure bone density in the middle finger, heel, shinbone or total body. A very small amount of radiation may be used, and you typically remain clothed during the procedure. No dyes are injected.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women age 65 and older be routinely screened for osteoporosis and that routine screening begin at age 60 for those women identified at high risk for the condition.

There are several types of BMD tests. They fall into two categories: Central machines measure bone density in the hip, spine and total body, while peripheral machines measure density in the finger, wrist, kneecap, shin bone and heel. It's smart to have your test performed at a facility, such as a hospital or special osteoporosis center, that does bone density testing on a regular basis. Talk with your health care professional about the best test for you:

  • DXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) measures bone density at the spine, hip or total body
  • SXA (Single Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) measures the wrist or heel
  • pDXA (Peripheral Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) measures the wrist, heel or finger
  • RA (Radiographic Absorptiometry) measures the hand and wrist
  • QCT (Quantitative Computed Tomography) measures the wrist or spine
  • Ultrasound uses sound waves to measure the heel, shin bone and kneecap