Clinical guidance

Bone Density Q&A

Published January 1, 2022

firefly logo and "Clinical Guidance" written out, along with an illustration of a doctor

Our bones can weaken as we age. A bone density test, recommended for women over age 65 and other people at risk for bone loss, checks how strong your bones are so you can take steps to protect yourself.

What is bone density?

Bone density is a measure of how strong our bones are.

Why is bone density important?

Our bodies are constantly losing old bone and growing new bone. As we get older, some of us lose bone more quickly than we can replace it. That can cause a condition called osteoporosis, which makes our bones weaker and more likely to break if we fall.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis doesn’t cause any symptoms, so people often don’t know they have it until they break a bone unexpectedly. The best way to know if you have osteoporosis is to get a bone density test. A bone density test checks how strong your bones are so you can take steps to protect yourself.

Should I get a bone density test?

It’s recommended that all women 65 and older, and other people at risk for bone loss, get a bone density test every two years. Osteoporosis is much more common in people assigned female sex at birth, and it becomes more common after menopause.

Healthcare providers may also recommend testing for younger people at higher risk of breaking a bone, like those who smoke cigarettes or use steroid medications long term.

What can I expect if I get a bone density test?

You’ll probably get a test called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). DXA is an x-ray of specific parts of your body (like your spine, hip, and forearm). The test uses very little radiation and doesn’t cause any discomfort. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes.

What do I do if the test shows I have osteoporosis?

There are treatments that can help slow bone loss or boost bone growth. Talk to your provider about your options.

What can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

  • Eat a healthy diet. For bone health, it’s especially important to get enough protein, calories, calcium, and vitamin D. Your provider may suggest supplements. 
  • Limit alcohol. More than 2 drinks a day can raise your risk of breaking a bone.
  • Exercise regularly. This can lower your risk of breaking a bone by improving or maintaining your bone density.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking cigarettes speeds up bone loss.
  • Take steps to prevent falls. For example, remove items in your home that might cause you to trip and avoid walking on slippery surfaces.

Source: UpToDate. (September 29, 2023). Patient education: Bone density testing (Beyond the Basics).