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Bone Density Scan FAQs

What is bone densitometry (bone density scanning)?
Bone densitometry measures the content of bone minerals (such as calcium) in various sites of the body. This enables your doctor to assess the strength of your bones and diagnose osteoporosis or increased fracture risk.
What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that reduces bone density and often leads to fractures, pain, and physical deformity. Osteoporosis can progress silently for years, showing no symptoms until painful or debilitating fractures occur.

Osteoporosis affects one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50. Forty percent of women and fifteen percent of men with osteoporosis will break at least one bone.

Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis?

There are many risk factors for osteoporosis. To understand your individual risk, we recommend reviewing your specific medical history with your doctor. You might be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis if you:

  • Are a post-menopausal woman
  • Have previously broken a bone with minimal trauma
  • Have had more than one broken bone in your lifetime
  • Have a strong family history of osteoporosis
  • Use certain medications such as prednisone

The Canadian Medical Association has published guidelines for diagnosing and managing osteoporosis. You can read these guidelines here: Link to Full Article

For more information on bone density scanning, visit Osteoporosis Canada at

How do I know if I’m at risk of osteoporosis?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed an online osteoporosis risk assessment tool, which calculates your 10-year risk of an osteoporotic fracture. You will need to enter your risk factors (such as having broken a bone in the past) as well as your bone mineral density at the hip.

You can access the assessment tool online at:

Why should I have a bone density scan?
Early detection of bone loss is the best way to prevent osteoporosis. A bone density scan will let you know if there are any problems you need to be aware of, and will allow your doctor to prescribe treatments to minimize bone loss.
What happens in a bone density scan?
A bone density scan is a simple, non-invasive procedure. You will be asked to lie down on a scan table and remain motionless. A scanner will pass over one of three skeletal areas: your lower spine, your hip, or your wrist. As the scanner moves, a dual-energy beam passes through the targeted area and is measured by a detector.
How long will the bone density scan take?
The entire procedure lasts about 20 minutes. Once the scan is complete, the radiologist will interpret the findings and forward a report to your doctor.
I’ve heard that an ultrasound of the heel can be an accurate test for determining osteoporosis. Is this true?
While an ultrasound of the heel can be used to screen for osteoporosis, it is not as precise or accurate as a bone density scan.