U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Get a Bone Density Test

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

A bone density test measures how strong your bones are. The test will tell you if you have osteoporosis (“os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis”), or weak bones. If your bones are weak, they’re more likely to break.

  • If you are a woman age 65 or older, schedule a bone density test.
  • If you are a woman age 50 to 64, ask your doctor if you need a bone density test.

If you are at risk for osteoporosis, your doctor or nurse may recommend getting a bone density test every 2 years.

Men can get osteoporosis, too. If you are a man over age 65 and you are concerned about your bone strength, talk with your doctor or nurse.

What happens during a bone density test?
A bone density test is like an x-ray or scan of your body. A bone density test doesn’t hurt. It only takes about 15 minutes.

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The Basics: Bone Disease

What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It means your bones are weak and more likely to break. People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the hip, spine, and wrist.

There are no signs or symptoms of osteoporosis. You might not know you have the disease until you break a bone. That’s why it’s so important to get a bone density test to measure your bone strength.

Learn more about osteoporosis and bone health:

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The Basics: Am I at Risk?

Am I at risk for osteoporosis?
Anyone can get osteoporosis, but it’s most common in older women. The older you are, the greater your risk for osteoporosis.

These things can also increase your risk for osteoporosis:

  • Not getting enough calcium and Vitamin D
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol
  • Not getting enough physical activity

Learn more about risk factors for osteoporosis.

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The Basics: Treatment

What if I have osteoporosis?
If you have osteoporosis, you can still slow down bone loss. Finding and treating it early can keep you healthier and more active – and lower your chances of breaking a bone.

Depending on the results of your bone density test, you may need to:

  • Add more calcium and vitamin D to your diet
  • Exercise more to strengthen your bones
  • Take medicine to stop bone loss

Your doctor can tell you what steps are right for you. It doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s not too late to stop bone loss!

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Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

Take these steps to protect your bone health.

Schedule a bone density test.
Ask your doctor if you are at risk for osteoporosis. Find out when to start getting bone density tests.

Print these questions for your doctor about preventing osteoporosis and take them to your next checkup.

What about cost?
Screening for osteoporosis is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

For information about services that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

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Take Action: Calcium

Get enough calcium.
Getting enough calcium helps keep your bones strong. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Almonds
  • Broccoli and greens
  • Tofu with added calcium
  • Orange juice with added calcium
  • Calcium pills

Use this calcium shopping list to help you find foods high in calcium.

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Take Action: Vitamin D

Get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb (take in) calcium. You need both vitamin D and calcium for strong bones. Find out how much vitamin D you need each day.

Your body makes vitamin D when you are out in the sun. You can also get vitamin D from:

  • Salmon or tuna
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt with added vitamin D
  • Breakfast cereals and juices with added vitamin D
  • Vitamin D pills
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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Stay away from cigarettes and alcohol.
Smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol can weaken your bones.

Take steps to prevent falls.
Falls can be especially serious for people with weak bones. You can make small changes to lower your risk of falling, like doing exercises that improve your balance. For example, try walking backwards or standing from a sitting position.

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Take Action: Get Active

Get active.
Physical activity can help slow down bone loss. Weight-bearing activities (like running and jumping jacks) help keep your bones strong.

  • Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity. If you are new to exercise, start with 10 minutes of activity at a time.
  • Do strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. These include lifting weights or using resistance bands (long rubber strips that stretch).
  • Find an exercise buddy. You will be more likely to stick with it if you exercise with a friend.
  • Use these tips to help you stay active as you get older.

If you have a health condition or a disability, be as active as you can be. Your doctor can help you choose activities that are right for you. 

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Take Action: Healthy Activities

Find an activity that works for you.
Check with your local community or senior center to find fun, low-cost or free exercise options. Try a new activity, like:

  • Aerobics
  • Tai chi (“ty chee”) – A Chinese mind-body exercise that involves moving slowly and gently
  • Yoga
  • Weight training
  • Walking with friends

Get more ideas for finding healthy activities that you enjoy [PDF – 881 KB].

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