A bone density test is a quick, painless procedure that requires no preparation on the patient's part, according to Mayo Clinic. The test should take about 10 to 30 minutes and can be done in a doctor's office, pharmacy or hospital.
When the bone density test is done in a hospital, the patient lays on a padded table while a mechanical arm passes over the body to scan the density of the spine, femur or forearm, says Mayo Clinic. If the test is done in a doctor's office or drugstore, a small portable machine called a peripheral device is used to scan the bones in the wrist, fingers or heel. A peripheral scan is not as accurate as a central scan, so a second scan may be needed if the results of the peripheral scan are positive.
A bone density test is used to determine the risk of fractures, confirm an osteoporosis diagnosis and monitor the effectiveness of osteoporosis treatment, according to Mayo Clinic. A bone density test may be recommended for people who have lost height, received a transplant, fractured a bone, taken steroids or had a drop in hormone levels. All women aged 65 and older and all men 70 or older, as well as those who have risk factors for osteoporosis, should discuss getting a bone density test with their doctor, according to WebMD.