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Bone Density Scans


A bone density test determines whether you have osteoporosis or are at risk for osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become fragile and likely to break.

In the past, osteoporosis could only be determined after you broke a bone. A bone density scan lets you know the risk of breaking bones before the fact.

A bone density scan uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other minerals are in your bones. A bone density scan is an accurate predictor of your risk for fracture.

Doctors use bone density scanning to:

  • Identify decreases in bone density before you break a bone
  • Determine your risk of broken bones
  • Confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis if you've experienced broken bones
  • Monitor osteoporosis treatment

About the Procedure

A bone density scan is a simple, noninvasive and painless exam to measure bone mass in areas such as your spine, hip, wrist, finger, kneecap, shin and heel. The standard test uses a low dose X-ray to detect signs of bone thinning and mineral loss.

The scan measures the density of the spine and hip. The forearm is measured in people with hyperthyroidism or if either hip cannot be scanned. Some doctors will order just a hip scan as a screening study for patients under 60.

There are several machines that measure bone density. Central machines measure density in the hip, spine and total body. Peripheral machines measure density in the finger, wrist, kneecap, shin and heel.

A bone density scan, using a central machine, takes about 15 minutes, including registration. During the procedure, you will lie on a table scanner for five to eight minutes. A technologist sits next to you throughout the procedure.

In addition to the standard scan, a CT bone density scan uses computed tomography to measure bone density. These scans provide detailed, 3-D images and can measure the effects of aging and diseases other than osteoporosis on your bones. For a CT test, you lie on a table that moves into a large tube-like area where images are taken. It typically takes about 10 minutes.

Who Should Have One

Your doctor can help determine if you should have a bone density scan. They are recommended if you are 65 or older regardless of risk.

If you're under 65, you should have a bone density scan if you have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Calcium-deficient diet
  • History of amenorrhea, the abnormal absence of menstruation
  • History of malabsorption
  • Moderate to high alcohol intake
  • Poor nutrition
  • Postmenopausal
  • Prolonged treatment with steroids, certain anti-cancer drugs, thyroid hormone and some anti-seizure medications
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Significant caffeine consumption
  • Small-boned frame
  • Smoker

Additional information

To schedule an appointment with the Alton Memorial Hospital Imaging Center, please call 618.463.7647 or email us.
Find a doctor or make an appointment: 618.463.7220 or 800.392.0936
General Information: 618.463.7311
Alton Memorial Hospital
One Memorial Drive
Alton, Illinois 62002

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