Diagnostic Imaging

Your doctor may recommend a bone density test to determine if your bones are weak and at risk of easily breaking. The density test uses enhanced X-ray technology to measure the strength of your bones by determining the amount of calcium and other bone minerals in bone segments.

Common uses

Your doctor may order a bone density test if you:

  • Are a post-menopausal woman and not taking estrogen
  • Have a family history of osteoporosis
  • Are a smoker
  • Are a post-menopausal woman who is over 5 feet 7 inches tall or you are very thin (less than 125 pounds)
  • You have medical conditions associated with bone loss such as type-1 diabetes, liver or kidney disease or have a thyroid or parathyroid condition
  • You use medications known to cause bone loss. This includes corticosteroids, some anti-seizure medications or thyroid replacement drugs. Discuss your medication and their impact on bone loss with your physician.
  • You have had a bone fracture after a mild trauma
  • You are a man over the age of 70

The DXA "bone density" machine

The DXA machine used for bone density testing, is also used to screen older patients for vertebral fractures especially if they have lost more than an inch of height or have unexplained back pain. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of weak or fragile bones. Before a fracture occurs, a bone density test can determine whether your bones have become weak and are lat risk to easily break.

Unfortunately, a bone density test does not tell your doctor why your bones are weak. Your physician will need to do a complete medical evaluation to determine the cause of weakening bones.

The advantages

The bone density test conducted at Riverside is more accurate than the simple test of your forearm, wrist or heel that you may have received at your local pharmacy or doctor's office. We use a device that measures the density of your spinal and hip bones. This kind of densitometry is a good predictor of your risk for breaking a bone.


Not all insurance companies will cover a bone density test, so please be sure to contact your insurance provider to make sure you are covered if you are planning on insurance covering your test.

What to expect

A bone density test is fast and painless. There is no preparation needed but you may be asked to avoid calcium supplements before the test. You should wear comfortable clothing without metal fasteners or zippers that might interfere with the test. You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam.

The testing device has a large table where you will lie during the test. A mechanical arm that measures the density of the bones in your spine and hip will pass over you without touching you. The bone density test is based on X-rays, but at a lower dose than you would receive from with ordinary chest X-ray. The test should take no more than 10 minutes.

The results

A radiologist will read and interpret your test and your referring physician will discuss the test results with you.