Bone density testing – Purpose, procedure, and more

Bone density testing – Purpose, procedure, and more

According to recent reports, nearly 44 million individuals in the country suffer from low bone density. Typically caused by calcium deficiency, lack of bone density may trigger health conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis if left untreated. However, early diagnosis and treatment for low bone density can help prevent such diseases. A bone-density test is a tried-and-tested procedure to identify instances of low bone density. This article is a definitive guide to this bone-density testing process:

The purpose of bone-density testing

  • To identify and mitigate the risk of bone injuries
    Weak bones increase one’s susceptibility to bone injuries and fractures, even following minor falls or accidents. Undertaking a bone-density test can help one identify such risk factors and take the necessary short-term and long-term precautions, from fall-proofing one’s home to treating the issue internally.
  • To determine susceptibility to bone-related conditions
    Low bone density is associated with various bone conditions, including osteopenia, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis. Identifying cases of low bone density early on can help one prevent such bone diseases or control symptoms at the initial stages.
  • To diagnose any existing bone diseases
    In some cases, individuals with bone density may already be grappling with bone conditions, which need to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest. A bone density test can help identify and diagnose such conditions and help patients take immediate treatment to heal from these diseases.
  • To monitor the progress of existing treatments
    Sometimes, doctors may recommend a bone-density test to patients already receiving treatment for bone-related health issues like osteoporosis. The purpose of such testing is to track the progress of the treatments and understand whether any other treatment course should be followed.

What is the procedure?
In general, a bone-density test is bifurcated into central DXA and peripheral test, each with its distinct procedures.

Central DXA
The central Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, DXA, or DEXA scan, is intended to test one’s spine and hip bones. Here, the patient lies on a padded platform as a machine passes above them, transmitting low-dose X-rays throughout the body. Through this process, which typically lasts ten minutes, the machine prepares an X-ray image of one’s skeleton. The results are typically available within a few days of undergoing the test.

Peripheral test
The peripheral test involves identifying the bone density of the bones situated in one’s wrists, fingers, and heels. In this procedure, a portable device is used for screening and can be easily made available at pharmacies, health fairs, etc. The different types of peripheral bone-density tests include pDXA, which tests the wrists and heels; QUS, which uses sound waves to measure bone density in the heels; and pQCT, to test the wrists.

Risks and Limitations

  • No causal evaluation
    While a bone-density test can help determine whether one has a bone density issue, it cannot provide a detailed insight into the cause of the issue. Thus, consulting a doctor is essential to determine the root cause of the health problem.
  • It cannot be performed on pregnant women
    Although the radiation exposure is minimal for this test, it is advisable for pregnant women to avoid undertaking bone density testing.
  • It may not be covered by all insurance plans
    Some insurance policies may not cover bone-density testing as part of their plans. Hence, it is important to check with insurance providers about coverage for this test before opting for an insurance policy.
  • Not accurate for persons with certain health conditions
    Bone density tests may not show accurate results for individuals with certain severe health conditions, such as severe arthritis and scoliosis.

Things to remember while taking a bone-density test

  • Avoid wearing clothes with metal accessories
    Metal accessories like belts and zippers should not be worn during the bone-density test. Thus, it is advisable to avoid wearing certain types of clothing, such as underwire bras and outfits with zippers.
  • Avoid the test for up to a week after certain injections
    Individuals injected with barium or contrast dye for their MRI, or CT scans should wait for a week before taking a bone-density test, as these elements may adversely affect the test.
  • Avoid taking oral calcium treatments before the test
    Many patients testing for bone density are often under treatment for calcium deficiency. However, one must avoid taking oral calcium doses for a day before bone-density testing.

The costs for bone-density tests vary based on the nature of the tests. A DEXA scan typically costs $160 to $175; however, several insurance policies cover the costs of such tests. Since low bone density is a fairly prevalent issue in the country, it is best to be prepared in advance and opt for insurance policies covering such tests. Besides, having calcium and vitamin D-rich foods, ensuring exposure to sunlight, and having a healthy lifestyle can help prevent and manage bone-density problems.

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