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How do doctors take bone density measurements?

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Quick Answer

Doctors measure bone density by X-ray, as the test measures the amount of calcium in a particular segment of bone, according to Mayo Clinic. The most common bones that doctors test are the hips, spine, heel and forearm.

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Bone density tests may be performed at a hospital on a central device, explains Mayo Clinic. The patient lies on a padded platform and a mechanical arm moves across the body. In most cases it takes 30 minutes or less to complete the test, and the radiation level is low. Some portable machines can measure bone density; they focus on areas such as the heel, finger and wrist. These machines are usually available in local pharmacies and are inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of tests at a hospital.

Since the density of the bones varies from one location of the body to another, it is important to know that one measurement is not an accurate look at the density throughout the body, states Mayo Clinic. For instance, a measurement of bone density at the heel is not a good representation of the bone density of the hip or spine. Since this is the case, if there is a positive result in one area, a doctor may suggest scanning other areas to confirm the diagnosis of low bone density.

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