Tests to check your bone health

Your GP or hospital doctor can do tests to check your bone health. They may use online tests, such as FRAX® and QFracture®, to see whether you are at risk of a fracture. The doctor enters information, including your height and weight, into the online tool and it works out your risk.

Your doctor may arrange for you to have a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan (DXA scan). This is sometimes called a bone mineral density (BMD) scan. During the scan, you will lie on a couch for a few minutes while a scanner moves above your body to measure your bone density. The scan is painless.

The results of the DXA scan are given as a number called a T-score. This shows whether you have normal bone density, or if your bone density is below normal or low. Having low bone density means you are more at risk of fractures. If the test shows that you are at a high risk of fractures, your doctor can advise you about what can help.

Tests to check bone health

If you think you are at risk of weakened bones, talk to your GP or hospital doctor. They can do tests to check your bone health.


Fracture risk assessment tools

There are two online tools that doctors in the UK can use to see whether you are at risk of a fragility fracture. These are called FRAX® and QFracture®. Your doctor may use one of these tests if you:

  • are over the age of 40 and they are concerned about your bone health
  • have risk factors for bone loss.

When your doctor uses the online tool, they will ask about your:

  • height
  • weight
  • medical history
  • possible risk factors for osteoporosis or fragility fractures.

The online tool then works out your risk of developing a fracture. The results will show whether you have a low, intermediate or high risk of a fracture.


Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan (DXA scan)

This scan may also be called a bone mineral density scan (BMD scan). It checks the density of your bones. If your bone density is low, you have a higher risk of a bone fracture.

Who has a DXA scan?

Your GP or hospital doctor may arrange for you to have a DXA scan if:

  • a fracture risk assessment shows your risk of fracture is intermediate (between low risk and high risk)
  • you are under the age of 40 and have a significant risk of fracture – for example, you have had more than one fragility fracture, or have recently taken high doses of steroids
  • you have had an early menopause and you have not had hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • you are a woman with early invasive breast cancer and you are going to start treatment with an aromatase inhibitor, have had an early menopause because of your treatment, or are going to have treatment to stop your ovaries working
  • you are a man with prostate cancer and you are going to start treatment with hormonal therapies that reduce testosterone levels – if you are on long-term hormonal therapy, you should have a DXA scan every year
  • you are taking steroids.

How the scan is done

During the DXA scan, you lie on your back on a couch while a scanner moves above your body. The amount of radiation from a DXA scan is much less than from a normal x-ray.

The scan only takes a few minutes and is painless. It is important there are no metal fastenings such as zips in the area being scanned. You may be asked to put on a hospital gown for the scan.

DXA scan results

The results of the scan will show whether you have:

  • normal bone density
  • low bone density (osteopenia)
  • osteoporosis.

Your DXA scan results are reported as a number called a T-score. Your T-score is your bone density compared with the bone density of an average healthy young adult of your gender. Your T-score is the number of units that your bone density is above or below the average.

What your T-score means

T-score
-1 and aboveYour bone density is normal.
Between -1 and -2.5Your bone density is below normal. Doctors call this osteopenia.
-2.5 and belowThis score suggests you have osteoporosis. Your bone density is low and your bones are at higher risk of fracture.


After bone health tests

If tests to check your bone health show you have low bone density or a high risk of fracture, your GP may advise you to:

  • take calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • take vitamin D supplements and increase the amount of calcium in your diet
  • take a drug treatment, such as a bisphosphonate
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • get enough sunshine (if this is possible)
  • keep physically active.

Back to Bone health

Bone health

The human body is made up of more than 200 bones, it is important to keep them healthy.

Looking after your bones

There are changes that you can make to your diet and way of life to improve your bone health.