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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Osteoporosis - Exams and Tests

A diagnosis of osteoporosis is based on your medical history, a physical exam, and a test to measure your bone thickness (density).

Medical history and physical exam

Your doctor will:

  • Take a medical history by asking questions about your family's health history and your own.
  • Measure your height and compare the results with past measurements.
  • Examine your body for signs of previous broken bones, such as changes in the shape of your long bones and spine.

Tests

You will have a bone density test. It helps your doctor estimate the strength of your bones.

Routine urine and blood tests can rule out other medical conditions, such as hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and Cushing's syndrome. These conditions can cause bone loss.

Early detection

If you or your doctor thinks that you may be at risk for osteoporosis, you may have a screening test to check your bone thickness. A screening test may be a good idea if you have:

  • A fracture from a minor injury that may have been caused by osteoporosis.
  • Another medical condition that is known to cause bone thinning.
  • Risk factors for or symptoms that suggest osteoporosis.

Experts recommend that all women age 65 and older routinely have a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis. If you are at increased risk for fractures caused by osteoporosis, routine screening should start sooner.3 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that you and your doctor check your fracture risk using a tool such as FRAX to help decide whether you should be screened for osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and when to start bone density screening.

Osteoporosis: Should I Have a Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) Test?

Using the FRAX tool

The FRAX tool was developed by the World Health Organization to help predict your risk of having a fracture related to osteoporosis in the next 10 years. The tool is meant for people who are not already being treated with medicine for osteoporosis. You can use this tool. Go to the website at www.sheffield.ac.uk/FRAX, and click on Calculation Tool. If you have had a bone density test on your hip, you can type in your score. If you have not had that test, you can leave the score blank.

Screening in younger women

Most experts recommend that the decision to screen younger women be made on an individual basis. The need for testing will depend on the risk for osteoporosis and whether the test results will help with treatment decisions.

Ultrasound tests

Ultrasound is sometimes offered at events such as health fairs as a quick screening for osteoporosis. Ultrasound by itself is not a reliable test for diagnosing osteoporosis. But if results of an ultrasound screening find low bone density, your doctor can help you decide whether you should have a bone density test.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 06, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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