How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone density scan (commonly known as a bone density test). It is a simple scan that measures the density of your bones, usually at the hip and spine. You simply lie flat on a padded table and the arm of the machine passes over your body. The scan takes approximately 10-15 minutes. You remain clothed during the scan. Your GP will first assess your risk factors for osteoporosis before referring you for a test.

Who should have a bone density scan?

Men and women over 50 with risk factors may need a bone check up with a bone density scan. If your bone density is low, you are more likely to fracture a bone in the future. Some risk factors may also require people under 50 to have a bone density scan.

The sooner you find out if you have low bone density or osteoporosis the better, you need to know as early as possible to manage your bone health. Finding out this information means you and your doctor can take action to keep your bones strong, slow bone loss and reduce the risk of breaks.

What will the result tell me?

A bone density scan will determine if any action is needed to improve your bone health. The result will indicate if your bones are in the range of either:

  • Normal
  • Low bone density (called osteopenia) or
  • Osteoporosis.

Medicare rebates

Medicare rebates apply for many, but not all people who will require a bone density scan. Your doctor will advise if you are eligible for a Medicare rebate. Some private health funds provide a reimbursement (please check with your fund). Medicare rebates for a bone density scan apply for those:

  • Previously diagnosed with osteoporosis
  • With one or more previous fractures from a minor incident
  • Taking corticosteroids (common for asthma)
  • Women with early menopause
  • Men with low testosterone
  • Individuals with coeliac disease (or other malabsorption conditions), overactive thyroid or parathyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, liver or kidney disease
  • If you are aged 70 years or over

For patients with risk factors where rebates do not apply, a bone density scan can be paid for directly.

Bone density scans are widely available through medical imaging outlets, radiology centres, hospitals and some specialists.

Heel ultrasound

You may see advertisements for other types of bone tests in chemists and shopping centres called Heel Ultrasounds. This is not the recommended standard test to measure your bone strength and predict your risk of fracture.

Author: Osteoporosis Australia Medical & Scientific Advisory Committee
Last updated: 07/08/2014 - 16:26