How is osteoporosis detected?

Symptoms of osteoporosis include severe back pain, loss of height and stooped posture, and bone fractures. The only sure way to determine bone density and fracture risk for osteoporosis is to have a bone mass measurement (also called bone mineral density or BMD test).

There are several ways to measure bone mineral density; all are painless, noninvasive and safe. They include:

  • Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry: measures bone density in the entire body
  • Single-energy X-ray absorptiometry: measures bone density in the arm or heel
  • Dental X-rays of bone
  • Ultrasound bone density measurement: measures bone density in fingers, heels and leg bones

The tests measure bone density in your spine, hip and/or wrist, the most common sites of fractures due to osteoporosis. The information from a bone density test enables your doctor to identify where you stand within ranges of normal and to determine whether you are at risk for fracture. In general, the lower your bone density, the higher your risk for fracture. Test results will help you and your doctor decide the best care plan for your bone health.

With the information obtained from a BMD test, you and your doctor can decide what prevention or treatment steps are right for you. BMD tests cannot stand alone; they should always be a part of a complete medical workup supervised by a knowledgeable doctor.