Get a Bone Density Test

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

A bone density test measures how strong bones are. The test will tell you if you have osteoporosis (“os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis”), or weak bones.

Women are at higher risk for osteoporosis than men, and this risk increases with age.

  • If you are a woman age 65 or older, schedule a bone density test.
  • If you are a woman age 64 or younger and you have gone through menopause, ask your doctor if you need a bone density test.

If you are at risk for osteoporosis, your doctor or nurse may recommend you get 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 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. 

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, and you don't need to do anything to prepare for it. It only takes about 15 minutes. 

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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:

  • Hormone changes (especially for women who have gone through menopause)
  • Not getting enough calcium and Vitamin D
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol
  • Not getting enough physical activity

Visit these websites to learn more about osteoporosis and bone health:

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The Basics: Treatment Options

What if I have osteoporosis?

If you have osteoporosis, you can still slow down bone loss. Finding and treating this disease early can keep you healthier and more active, lowering 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

Learn about medicines used to treat osteoporosis.

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 build stronger bones.

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Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

Take these steps to protect your bone health.

Schedule a bone density test if your doctor recommends it.

Ask your doctor if you are at risk for osteoporosis and find out when to start getting bone density tests.

Print these questions for the 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.

Check with your insurance company to find out what's included in your plan. For information about other services that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

If you have Medicare, find out about Medicare coverage for bone density tests.

If you don’t have health insurance, you can still get a bone density test. To learn more, find a health center near you.

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Take Action: Calcium and Vitamin D

You need both vitamin D and calcium for strong bones.

Get enough calcium.

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.

Get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb (take in) calcium.

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

Find out how much vitamin D you need each day.

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Take Action: Get Active

Get active.

Physical activity can help slow down bone loss. Weight-bearing activities (like running or doing 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 or go walking with friends. You will be more likely to stick with it if you exercise with other people.

Find activities that work for you.

You don't need special equipment or a gym membership to stay active. Check with your local community center or senior center to find fun, low-cost, or free exercise options.

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 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 up from a sitting position without using your hands.

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