Preventive screenings, such as bone density tests, can help identify potential medical problems. Medicare covers some costs.
Bone density tests may help prevent expensive reparative treatments. Medicare generally covers such tests, although there may be other out-of-pockets costs.
This article looks at bone density scans and osteoporosis, including risk factors. It also discusses Medicare coverage of the tests, along with costs.
If a doctor thinks a person may have osteoporosis, they may ask for a bone density scan, which uses an X-ray to measure bone mineral density.
The test may be done in a hospital setting or by using a mobile device. In general, a person will get the hospital test for a hip or spine X-ray, while the mobile test is done on a person’s finger, wrist, or heel. However, the type of test may depend on the community’s access to equipment.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), if the test cannot be done on a person’s hip or spine, then it could be done on a person’s radius bone, which is in the forearm.
Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes decreases in a person’s bone density, which can lead to fractures of the hip, spine, or wrist following a fall or other trauma.
After a doctor confirms a person has osteoporosis, recommended treatments may include medications and lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise and increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D.
Women are more likely than men to experience osteoporosis due to age-related hormonal changes. For example, after menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels drop. Estrogen is one of the hormones responsible for stimulating osteoblasts, which are cells that promote bone growth.
Other osteoporosis risk factors include:
- lack of bone-building vitamin D and calcium in the diet
- smoking cigarettes
- drinking alcohol excessively
- being sedentary
- having a too-low body weight
- having a medical history of a parent who broke their hip
If a person has several of these risk factors, a doctor may recommend a bone density scan.
A bone density test is also called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). The test is a non-invasive, painless X-ray scan of the hip and spine. A person does not need to do or wear anything special to get the test, and the entire scan typically takes 15 minutes or less.
Once a person has had a bone density test, a doctor trained in reading the scans will view the images and use calculations to assign a T-score, which compares a person’s current bone density to that of a healthy adult at age 30. Three T-score categories exist:
- normal bone density: -1 or higher (such as 0 or +0.5)
- low bone density: between -1 and -2.5
- osteoporosis: -2.5 and lower
In addition to receiving a T-score, a person may also receive a Z-score. This is a score that compares a person’s bone density to someone of the person’s similar age and size. These scores are usually more effective in identifying bone density levels in children, teenagers, and younger men