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Why Should I Have My Bone Density Measured?

Why Should I Have My Bone Density Measured?
When your doctor suggests you undergo a bone density scan, you’re skeptical, especially if you’ve never broken a bone. You may also be a little scared, particularly if a relative had osteoporosis. But answers help you take charge of your bone health.

A bone density test — also known as a dual-energy-X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan — is a useful measurement that lets you and your doctor know how strong and dense (or weak and porous) your bones are. Young bones are filled with minerals and densely packed with fresh new bone cells that make them resistant to breakage. 

Over time, though, the minerals deplete and the cells die off. That’s why you’re more susceptible to suffering a broken bone the older you get. And the older you get, and the weaker your bones are, the more complicated a fracture can be. 

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors Joseph Calandra, MD and Karen Mass, MD want you to know as much about bone health and longevity as possible. That’s why they recommend regular bone density tests to determine the state of your bone health.

Do you need a bone density test? At some point, you will. Here’s why.

Bone loss starts early

When you’re young and healthy, you replace dead and dying bone cells with new cells faster than you lose them. This bone-building process helps keep your bones strong and resistant to fracture. 


However, by the time you’re just 25, the process shifts — whether you’re a woman or a man. From about age 25 to 50, you replace bone at an equivalent rate to its loss, which helps keep your bones stable, but doesn’t add to their strength.

After age 50, however, the balance shifts. At this point, you lose bone cells and the minerals they contain faster than you can replace them. This process is particularly accelerated in postmenopausal women. 

Women lose estrogen during menopause and perimenopause. Estrogen helps keep bones strong and dense. So does the hormone testosterone. When men lose enough testosterone as they age, they can develop osteoporosis, too.

A bone scan gives you answers

You may already know that you’re at high or low risk for osteoporosis based on your family history. You’re also more at risk if you’re:

  • Female
  • Caucasian
  • Asian
  • Small boned
  • Have had prior fractures
  • Over age 50
  • Have an autoimmune disease
  • Underwent organ transplant
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle
  • Use steroids

If your doctor suggests you have a bone scan, you then get the answers you need about your unique bone status — outside your risk factors or lack of them. With that information, you can then make choices that either maintain your bone strength or to stop further bone loss.

What a bone density scan does

A DEXA scan is a simple, noninvasive procedure that only takes a few minutes. You lie on an examination table while the technician aims the low-level X-ray device on such areas as your hip or forearm. Your results are ready for your doctor within a week or so.

Once your results are in, you meet with your doctor to discuss your numbers. DEXA numbers consist of something called a T-score — which compares your bones to healthy, young bones — and a Z-score — which compares your bones to other people of your age, sex, and ethnic background.


  • Normal: T-score of -1 and above
  • Osteopenia: T-score between -1 and -2.5
  • Osteoporosis: T-score of -2.5 and below 

If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, we may recommend medications to help strengthen your bones.


Z-scores are calculated individually, based on your sex, age, and ethnic group. If your Z-score is abnormally low, we may order more tests. You may have a medical condition that’s affecting your bone density.

Keep your bones healthy for life

No matter what your scores are, everyone would benefit from adopting a bone-healthy lifestyle. This helps keep your bones strong while you’re still young, maintains bone when you’re older, and slows bone loss if you’re already losing too much bone. Bone-healthy habits include:

  • Resistance training to build healthy muscles and bones
  • Avoiding or minimizing caffeine and other bone-depleters
  • Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eating a high-protein, healthy diet to build more bone and muscle
  • Getting plenty of exercise and movement every day

You may also benefit from taking calcium and other mineral supplements. Between diet and supplements, men should get at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day and women should get 1,200 mg per day. 

Be sure to check with your doctor before taking supplements. Also, some otherwise healthy foods may negatively affect your bones if not properly prepared.

You may want to consider medications that either slow bone loss or help you build new bone cells. Although all medications have potential side effects, not taking a medication that can keep you fracture free as you age also has risks.

Get the information you need about your bone health by calling our friendly team or using our online appointment form to schedule a bone density scan today.