11 May Understanding Bone Density Tests: Can They Be Done At Home?
Despite how important your bones are, people commonly neglect and overlook them until they experience a problem. As a result, they often end up with weakened, broken, or compromised bones in the form of a condition known as osteoporosis. While osteoporosis is painful and debilitating, it’s sometimes unavoidable. To prevent it, however, it’s important to know how strong and healthy your bones are.
The best way to do that is with a bone density test. Bone density tests are valuable assets for doctors that help determine your bones’ strength based on their density and mineral content. If you receive a bad score on your bone density test, it means you’re at higher risk of developing osteoporosis, osteopenia, or other injuries or diseases related to weakened bones.
While bone density tests require special equipment and are usually conducted in a medical facility, they can be done at home with mobile equipment. However, they should always be conducted by medical professionals who know how to administer the test and explain the results.
What is a Bone Density Test?
As the name implies, a bone density test, or bone densitometry, is a test that measures how strong and dense your bones are. The goal of the test is to measure the amount of calcium and mineral content inside your bones, which is an indicator of how strong they are.
The more mineral content you have, the stronger your bones are. While everyone can benefit from a bone density test, they’re especially important for post-menopausal women and men over 60.
How is a Bone Density Test Performed?
There are several different ways to perform bone density tests. Regardless of which method gets used, however, the goal is to scan the inside of your bones to measure the calcium and mineral content.
The exact way that the test is performed will depend on the method that gets used.
Different Types of Bone Density Tests
Here’s a quick look at the three most common types of bone density tests
Dexa, which stands for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, is the most accurate and common type of bone density test.
Using this method, you’ll lie flat on a bed, couch, or other surface. As you lie there, an arm stretches over you and scans your bones as it passes over them.
As it’s scanning, the Dexa arm will measure your bone density. Bone density tests performed with a Dexa scan are fast, easy, painless, and reliable.
It’s also possible to perform a bone density scan using just an X-ray. However, X-ray bone density tests are much more limited than Dexa scans.
X-rays can show visible problems with your bones and give a general idea of how strong they are, but they don’t measure the actual bone density.
Therefore, while X-rays can provide valuable preliminary insights, a Dexa scan is necessary for a more precise and comprehensive assessment of bone health.
Finally, you also have the option of taking a bone density test using a special CT scanner known as a quantitative computed tomography (QCT) scan. This method is often used for hip and spine scans and is reliable and accurate.
However, the machine required to administer the test is more specialized and expensive than a Dexa scanner, which makes it less popular.
You also can’t take a bone density test with a QCT scanner at your home.
Interpreting Your Bone Density Test Results
After you take a bone density test, it’s important to have your results explained by a medical professional. Your results are then compared to the average bone density of other people your age. This result, known as your Z score, will help you understand how strong and healthy your bones are based on your age.
You’ll also receive a second score, known as your T score, which compares your bone strength to that of a young adult.
This will help you understand how much bone density you’ve lost throughout the years. Here’s a quick rundown of what your results mean.
- A T-score of 1 to -1 means your bone density is normal.
- A T-score of 1 to 2.5 means you have low bone mass.
- A T-score of 2.5 or more means you have osteoporosis.
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Why is a Bone Density Test Important?
Regardless of what method you prefer, it’s important to invest in a bone density test. These tests are extremely important because they measure the health and strength of your bones.
By knowing your bone density and how much mineral and calcium content you have inside of them, you will know if you’re at risk for the following issues.
- Broken or fractured bones
Bone density tests are also a good investment if you already have osteopenia or osteoporosis and need to monitor your condition.
This test will help you know if your condition worsens, improves, or stays the same.
Do I Need a Bone Density Test?
Bone density tests are a good idea for everyone but are especially valuable for the following populations.
- Women who have gone through menopause.
- Men over the age of 60
- Anyone who is over 50 and has broken a bone in the past
- Those with a confirmed diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Can Bone Density Tests Be Done at Home?
Traditionally, bone density tests could only be performed at a hospital, clinic, or medical facility because of the equipment requirements. However, thanks to innovations in Dexa and X-ray technology, it’s now possible to do a bone density test at your home. However, it’s vital that you refrain from attempting a DIY bone density test, as the only way to measure your bone density is with a scanner capable of seeing inside your bones.
Do Home Bone Density Tests Have Limitations?
As long as they’re performed by a qualified and licensed professional, at-home bone density tests don’t have any limitations. A Dexa scanner in your home can see inside your bones just as well as a Dexa scanner at a medical facility.
Final Thoughts About Bone Density Tests
Whether you prefer to take a bone density test at home or a medical facility, the important thing is that you take one under the supervision of a medical professional. Bone density tests are the best way to determine your bones’ strength and health. They will also tell you if you’re at risk of developing a serious bone disease or are at increased risk of suffering a broken or fractured bone. If the test reveals low bone mineral density, you can take corrective measures to strengthen your bones and reverse the damage.
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Bone Densitometry | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Bone density test – Mayo Clinic
Bone Density Test, Osteoporosis Screening & T-score Interpretation (bonehealthandosteoporosis.org)
Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT) | UCSF Radiology
Bone density scan (DEXA scan) – How it is performed – NHS (www.nhs.uk)