February 01, 2019

I've never had a fracture. Do I need a bone density test?

Q: I've never had a fracture or any bone health issues. Should I still get a bone density test?

A: It depends. A bone density test uses X-rays to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals in a segment of bone. By identifying decreases, your doctor can determine your risk of fractures and diagnose and monitor progression of osteoporosis.

If you're a woman 65 or older, a bone density test is recommended. Even if testing reveals your bone health is good, this test can serve as a baseline measurement for future testing. Testing is also important for women and men who've broken a bone after age 50.

For men without fractures, the answer isn't quite as clear. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn't recommend routine bone density testing for men. Because men have a higher bone mass and lose bone more slowly than do women, they're at a lower risk of fracture. There's also no conclusive evidence that osteoporosis medications can prevent fractures in men. However, up to 1 in 4 men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Groups such as the National Osteoporosis Foundation still recommend testing for men 70 and older.

Men between the ages of 50 and 69 — and women under 65 — also may want to have bone density testing if they have risk factors for osteoporosis, including a family history of the disease or a history of fractures. Talk to your doctor about whether bone density testing is right for you.